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9 Actual Lughnasadh Customs You Can Do

1. Avoid reaping anything until harvest

A common theme among the celts, is that the fruits of the land only belong to them during certain periods. The crops only belong to the land of the living between Aug 1 and Nov 1. That is, from Lughnasadh to Samhain, are the only times we can eat from the still growing crops and wild berries. There is an element of a relationship with the wild, the land and forces which influence the both.

There are notions that the first harvest, Lughnasadh, is begun by the fair folk or 'wild-men' before the harvest is begun by humans. These spirits start the harvest in the otherworld, which allows it to be copacetic for humans to harvest during their times.

When we look other folkloric practices such as certain avoidances of tossing water out of the home, either not at all or not without warning, we notice a responsibility to the fair folk. Looking at Lughnasadh practices brings this into further focus.

Lughnasadh is all about the Tribes relationship to the Land. It is a culmination of all the other rites of the year. And since this comes right after Yellowmonth, this is a time where hunger is staved off until midwinter. And so the pious did well to respect the rules of this relationship, in part being, not taking from the harvest until it's that time in the relationship between Tribe, Land, and apparently Otherworld.

2. Attending Hilltop or Lakeside Gatherings

Over 75 hilltop gatherings are recorded so there were probably more in ancient Ireland. Many of these such gatherings were remote, and by design, intentionally inaccessible to the old, unable and the very young. The purpose of this was to reduce care at these gatherings so merriment could be unrestrained(Danaher 169).

Folks made a day of the entire thing, would travel by day and celebrate at the gathering by night by drinking, dancing, boasting, courting, tests of prowess, picking of flowers, crafting garlands, and picking berries.

At these gatherings folks would dance, play games, undoubtedly drink, pick berries, enact myth, and eat food from prior first fruits feasts in the home.

If the gatherings weren't held on hilltops, they'd be held near rivers and lakes. In these cases, like cattle would be driven through fire, horses were driven through water(Danaher 173). Horse racing was an addition to the gatherings in the regions where this was prefered.

Certain hilltops with lore were expected to have visits from the Sí folk who lived in those hills. Some examples are Crom Dubh and Donn Fírinne. Sometimes these would be considered the consort of the land(Kondratiev 201-202).

3. Flirting & Fertility Rites

Taken from the prevalence of flirting and courtship during Lúnasa, ancient fertility rites public or nonpublic were undoubtedly a thing among ancient Celts. In Scotland, allegedly lammas brothers and sisters are those couples who join in sexual union for the duration of Lammas, or there germanic name for Lúnasa the harvest. But I can't find a reference for that. If you find one, please feel free to comment below.

So there's almost a sex positive influence as part of the celebration of harvest. Often these couples would enjoy each other's company beyond the festival and progress onto courtship and then marriage. For those who live and operate within a modern pagan polyamorous context, one might consider this a season to express these practices and find a new partner at an early august gathering. 

4. Ceremonial Boasting, Competitions and Showing Off

Trials and feats of strength are part and parcel of the fun of Lúnasa(Danaher 170). We here in Austin TX run a local water balloon battle where we declare a champion. Sometimes we divide the folk into Gods vs Giants in order to reenact mythological contexts. Just like horses, the symbols of the Tribe, were raced through the water to bless them, we fight with water and bless combining these themes together.

The gatherings on the hilltops included all kinds of things. The Tailteann games held at Teltown was said to have a line 6 miles long of folks trying to enter the festival. These feats find their modern reflection in local Highland games festivals.

In your Lúnasa rituals, the religious significance of some practices, like the potential bull fighting and sacrifice that happened in the Tailteann games, ought to be carried over in modern ways. Alexei points out that the Hero god, Lugh probably won the sovereignty of the land goddess over Crom Dubh or more local like Donn Fírinne. Donn Firinne, for instance, is a fairy king or lord who rides on the wind and controls the weather and battles other fairy rulers for the crops. He resides in Knoc Feerina. Whoever the consort god of the Land Goddess was, that is who the Hero god of the Tribe had to battle during the harvest seasons. So bull and hero symbolism in your sacrifices, literal or figurative, are a nice additions to any Lúnasa ritual.

5. Spinning on Your Heel

If you sow any fruits and harvest them at this time, the proper thing to do is to cut the sheaf or ear, raise it up to the sky, and spin three times clockwise(sunwise) on your right heel until you end up facing south while chanting an enchantment. The enchantment recorded in the Carmina Gadelica is as follows:

I will let my sickle down as the nourishing ear is in my hand, I will raise my eye to the heights, I will turn quickly on my heel to the right, as the sun travels from the eastern quarter to the west -- from the northern quarter, with a smooth motion, to the true center of the southern quarter.
You could do this with even a good Texas Tomato or Poteet Strawberry.

6. Make Seasonal Foods

Families generally have a fest on the day of harvest, especially if guests come over. In that case someone in the house, usually a young woman, will go out to the stacks of grain, pick the best stack, and then choose a middle sheaf from that stack.

The corn is then made into bread, porridge or a seasonal dish given to the guest or as a centerpiece for the feast. Berries were also picked at this time and made into a dish of berries, sugar and cream. 

7. Have a late night Ceilidh

Part and parcel of the gatherings we've already discussed are Cèilidhean which would be held late into the night and last into the early morning (Danaher 169). Many people have Cèilidhean and call them bardic circles. Stop it... they're Ceilidhs. Gatherings or portions of gatherings that include singing, playing folk music and storytelling fall under this. It doesn't have to be Irish completely music, though Irish pagans will want to include as much of it as possible.

8. Cake Dances

Hold cake ceremonies that involve cake dances. While we don't have access to the old cake dances, there are a few pagans I know personally who could pull off a reconstructed modern adaptation. If your into dance or worship with your body, this is a tradition for you. Fruit cakes called bairín breac are popular at Lúnasa(Danaher 173).

9. Make Pilgrimages

Making pilgrimages around Lúnasa is an age old tradition (Danaher 170). But you don't need to travel from Malin to Mizen or even go to Ireland to have a pilgrimage. Your local pagan festival or some kind of sacred space are great places in which to pilgrimage. In Central Texas we have some sacred spaces we've chosen from local legend and a few we've designated. Travel to one of these places can be made into a pilgrimage. In 2014 I pilgrimages 60 miles to an Earth Spirit People Beltane festival on bicycle. I stopped along the way and did rituals and prayers. I got attacked by dogs along the way, got lost for a short bit, experienced fear, and so it was a real adventure.

Walking sticks were taken on pilgrimages and notches were cut into them for rites and prayers performed along the way. Pilgrims would also leave rags tied onto bramble at wells for magical and prayer purposes (Evans "Plate 15"). These practices can be used in our modern time.

Danaher, K. (1994). The year in Ireland. Cork: Mercier Press.
Evans, E. (2000). Irish folk ways. Mineola, N.Y: Dover Publications, p.Plate 15.
Kondratiev, A. (2003). The apple branch. New York: Citadel.



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