Sunday, July 27, 2014

About Lughnasadh August 1-2

Lughnasadh (pronounced loo’-na-sadh) is the feast which Oakmist initiates celebrate beginning August 1.

In our tradition, Lughnasadh marks the wake of the Old God who received a mortal wound at Samradh and the beginning of the grain harvest. Whether the God is alive or dead, well that is a Mystery. The Old God travels freely between the worlds of Life and Death, while the Goddess accompanies him on his journey and remains in the Darkness, leaving the mourning earth to grow colder and colder in her absence, Sun Child safely nestled in her belly. The Maiden has become the Mother, strong and ready to make difficult choices in order to protect her own. She knows in order to eat, sacrifices must be made. The Cycle of Life isn't for sissies!

It can feel like a dangerous time of year, when the Gods leave the surface of the earth. The days grow shorter as the Gods travels inward.  Chaos can reign.  One day might be scorching hot while the next brings a violent storm. One never knows what tomorrow's weather might bring.  We are forced to face our fears.  But at the same time, we are given hope for the future. The Sun WILL return!

For now, it's time to get the crops harvested and brought in safely.  Into the cool, dark storehouse of our inner selves. 

And the final harvest meant wonderful fairs and markets, a time of sacred peace between tribes that might usually be in war.

These events are connected and recalled in one form or another in myths surrounding life-in-death and death-in-life aspects of gods and goddesses in virtually every culture and religion.

Lughnasadh is the time of the Barley Moon. In older times, the last stalk of grain was ceremonially cut and crafted into a corn dolly, which could represent both the God and the Goddess. 

One aspect of the god who is honored by some Celtic traditions at this time of year is Llew Llaw Gyffes, a Welsh god of light who died and came back to life. He was the ripener of the grain, the Sun. 

 In Ireland, he was called “Lugh, the Long-Handed.” He owned a magic spear which thirsted for blood, and which flashed fire and roared aloud in battle. Lugh was the first to use the horse in warfare, and nobody could gaze upon his face without being dazzled.

In the British Hereditary Tradition, there is a story of Teutates, God of the Waxing Year, Lord of Light, and Taranis, God of the Waning Year, Lord of Darkness. Taranis mortally wounds Teutates at their Midsummer Battle, the battle between light and darkness. The Sun God is then sent to the Underworld until Yule, when he is once again born to the Mother as the Sun-Child. Lughnasadh is the mourning feast for this same Sun God, Teutates-Lugh-Oak King-Corn King. 

At Lughnasadh, the goddess-aspect we celebrate is the Corn Mother. In the Celtic pantheon, this could be Macha, the Triple Goddess. In Roman myth, she appears as Demeter, attended by Persephone, her daughter. In a sense, the Goddess is the grain; or the Mother gives the grain, and the Daughter represents the grain itself. 

Demeter by Zingaia
To many Celtic people, the realms of the Sun were feminine, and our physical sun was the bright spirit of her son, the Solar God, reborn each year at Cuidle. He is a pale mirror who reflects the great white light that is the source of All. The feminine principle is that of immortality while the masculine principle can only be sustained through the cycle of Birth, Life, Death, and Rebirth. The Goddess herself only undergoes metamorphosis of Maiden, Mother, and Crone by her maternal desire to procreate and sustain the cycle of life.

The Goddess sustains the God by never allowing him to achieve old age. She is the Mother who gives him Birth, the Maiden who becomes his Lover, then the Crone who gives him Tutelage. From this union, he sires his other self, who is reborn, and grows to become in turn, the slayer. In this way, the seasons are kept in harmony, and all life dances to this oldest tune of all!

This day was called Lammas by the Saxons from the Anglo-Saxon hlaf-mas or “loaf feast,” referring to the loaves that are baked from the first grain harvested. This celebration of the harvest of the first grain ties in nicely with Lughnasadh. 

The beginning of the last quarter of the year. 
The grain stands tall and golden in the fields, 
awaiting harvest. 
Standing between the rows is the spirit of the God. 
Do you dare look him in the eye?

Theme and Purpose of Rites 

Summer is at its height of fruition. The grain and first fruits have ripened. Harvest and wine making begin. People mourn the death of the Sun God and celebrate his life. This is a tie to secure the approval of the gods for the harvest. Magic is done to avert storms, rains, floods that would destroy the harvest. Thanks is given for the harvest. Puberty rites (Red Feasts) are performed for girls. Crops, herbs to be used in medicine, hives, the tools, vehicles, and beasts used in harvest work are ritually blessed. The Blessing of the Animals was performed by the Catholic Church just two weeks ago!

Folk Customs 

The funeral games of Lugh were marked by Tailtean (or Teltown) marriages in honor of Lugh and his capricious bride. These were trial marriages lasting for “a year and a day.” They could only be dissolved by an act performed in the place where the vows had been taken. The man and woman stood back to back in the center of the circle and walked apart, one to the north, the other to the south. Tailtean marriages were actually legal up to the 13th century.

Well-dressing takes place at this time. Vines, fruits, herbs, grains, and other crops are blessed. The first sheaf of grain is ceremonially cut and made into an image of a woman, called the Corn Mother or Kern Dolly, which is set up and honored at the festivals. The last sheaf of corn is ceremonially cut and called John Barleycorn, or some other name for the dying god.

The Puck Fair in England lasts three days. Father Time, a figure derived from Kronos or Saturn (Old God), crowns the little Queen of the Fair, who in turn crowns a billygoat as King of the Fair (New God). There is an ancient tournament of Bards held in Wales.

A Native American custom has girls who have had their first menstrual period during that year secretly compose an image of the Corn Maiden. The body is a bundle of cornhusks resembling a flowing robe. Head, face, hair and ornaments are all made of natural materials. One doll is chosen to represent the Goddess at the festival. Its maker is made Queen of the Festival. The remaining dolls are burned in the ritual fire as an offering.

The first three days of August are sacred to the Dryads. Trees and vines may not be cut and offerings should be made to the dryad of a favorite tree, such as the tree from which you cut your wand.

Symbolic Decorations 
Vines, grapes, sheaves of grain, corn, roses, the colors white, red, purple, & yellow.

Ideas for the Rite. 

The ritual takes place at sunset in a garden or outdoors if possible. Mark the Circle area with golden, yellow, and red flowers & harvest fruits. Wear wreaths of roses, marigolds, poppies, corn, or ripe grain. Wear bells.

Make a likeness of the Goddess from corn or grain sheaves. Make it life-sized if possible. Crown the figure with ears of grain and flowers. Heap sheaves of grain and other harvest fruits on and near the altar.

Bake a loaf of bread in the form of the Goddess. Break and distribute it during the Cakes/Wine portion of the ritual.

Use a broom to sweep and cast the Circle.

Offer the first-fruits of your life to the Goddess as acknowledgment that all crops belong to her. Ask her blessing upon your harvest.

Petitions can be written on paper or dried leaves and burned in the fire, which may be in cauldron or fire-pit.

Make a toast to Llew! Keening (mournful wailing) is appropriate during this rite. Extinguish all lights except for one, symbolizing the hope for the Sun’s rebirth and return. 

Ideas for Families with Children

Spray paint a Frisbee gold and teach children to throw it.
Relay and sack races, water balloon fights or tosses, egg tosses. 
Make chains from corn husks to decorate the house. Make candleholders from apples. Bake a loaf of bread shaped like the sun! Make cookies and decorate them like the sun. Make corn and seed necklaces or bracelets or seed mosaics. 

Pooka Pages is a great resource for families with young children. Here is the link for the Lughnasadh issue:

Pooka Pages

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