Lughnasad is almost upon us, the cicadas are in full song and the farmer’s market is filled with tomatoes, zucchini, and corn. The Queen Anne’s Lace is blooming on the roadsides beside the prairie clover and coneflowers. The rainy springs we have here have long given way to hot humid weather and by this time the grasses are often browned and crispy. I’m glad for the break from mowing my yard every weekend, now I can usually get away with it twice or three times a month.
In Ireland the bilberries are in season and this is a time for festivals celebrated with bilberry pies and jam and picnics on the highest hilltops. Trefor Owen also speaks of the prevalence of mountaintop gatherings in Wales at this time. Well I live in the middle of Iowa and the highest hilltop just isn’t all that high. We also don’t have bilberries but the mulberries have been at their peak just now and every where you look sidewalks are spattered with pastel purple bird splatters.
Also known as Lammas, it’s a harvest festival especially the wheat harvest. For myself, I’ve always associated Lughnasad with baking bread for the ritual: round sun-shaped loaves; I can’t really imagine a Lughnasad rite without an offering of bread.
Lughnasad is named after the Celtic God, Lugh, also called Lugh Lámhfhada (Lugh Long Arm) and Lugh Samhildánach (Skilled in many arts). As such, he’s a good one to call on for just about any task you wish to turn your hand to: crafting, history, music, or fighting. Traditionally it is said that he established this holiday as a day for competitive gaming and celebration to honor his mother, Tailtiu. Llew Llaw Gyffes is considered to be the Welsh version of Lugh, but aside from a similar name and being high skilled, their stories are completely different. Nevertheless, it is the story of Llew Llaw Gyffes that Archdruid Kirk Thomas uses for the August 1st High Holy Day in his construction of a Welsh wheel of the year. This myth concerns Llew Llaw Gyffes’s birth and how his uncle Gwydion thrice outwits his mother’s curse to procure him a name, arms, and a wife. It is charmingly retold by Peter Freeman on youtube.com here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x20gujpPEZ0.
It’s helpful for me to hear a Welshman pronounce things properly. At the end he also provides his own interpretation that the story is about the three stages of a man’s life. In his youth he needs to figure out who he is (a name), as he matures and becomes a warrior he must have arms, and as a sage, he must have a wife, to have a family and pass this on to the next generation. Those are three key elements to contemplate and link back around to Lughnasad: what do I want to be? what do I want to do and create in my life? and what do I want to pass on? or, more generally, what am I crafting? While you are at it, a personal inventory of what your skills are is appropriate too, and finding a way to make an offering of one of them during the High Day ritual.
For my ritual, I’ll continue to focus on the Welsh hearth. The day is called Calan Awst in Welsh which simply means the beginning of August. I’ll consecrate the copper tree I made for my altar. It’s something made by my hands and one of the first ‘fruits’ of my dedicant path. I hope to have two wooden “mezuzah case” blanks to consecrate as well. This Jewish idea wasn’t fastened down quite firmly enough so I’m lifting it to create my own mini-shrines. I’ll decorate them, put a written invocation inside, and put them on my front and back doorways to orient me toward the Kindred everytime I step through.
Owen, Trefor M. The Customs and Traditions of Wales. Cardiff: University of Wales, 1991.
Thomas, Kirk. “A Welsh Wheel of the Year: Part 3.” Oak Leaves 57 (2012): 19-22.