Lammas or Lughnasadh

Lammas or Lughnasadh



Also known as the First Harvest, Lughnasadh celebrates the Celtic God, Lugh, with games (Nasad) and assembly. It is thought to have started as a wayfor Lugh to honour his foster Mother, Tailte, one of the Tuatha de Danaan.   This celebration was practiced mostly in Britain, Ireland and France (ancient Gaul) as Lugh was not a well known deity outside of the British Isles.  He is said by some to be a solar God; a God of the Harvest, craftspeople, and trade and commerce.  Traditionally, Teltown, in Ireland was the original site of Lughnasadh celebrations although there may have been earlier celebrations for the harvest held there prior to the worship of Lugh.  The festival began on or about July 15th and ended on or about August 15th with the full moon nearest August 1st being the actual day of the fire ceremony.  The festival was held to celebrate the first harvest.  When Christianity came to Ireland, the name of the festival was changed to Lammas meaning “loaf-mass”.  The grain that was gathered was ground into flour and baked into bread, the first of which was offered to the Church to celebrate the Mass.

Being a harvest festival that lasted a month, a great fair complete with games (as important in their times as the modern Olympic games) and the assembly of the High Kings of Ireland was part of the celebration.  It was here at Teltown that all of the kings were reconfirmed in their office.  The Stone of Fal was brought from Tara and each of the kings was required to find the Fal Stone during the festival or his reign would be over.

It was during this fair that marriages were contracted and petitions were presented to the Druids for judgement.

Couples could enter into a contract for a trial marriage for a year and a day.  An interesting custom comes to us from a 19th century writing.  It was said that at Larganeeny, near Teltown, there was a tall wall of stone in the hollow.  Young men and women would enter the hollow, the men on the north side of the wall and the women on the south side.  One by one the women would put their hands through a hole in the wall and a man would take hold of it on the other side neither one being able to see the other.  This would make the couple handfast for the time specified.  At next year’s fair, the couple would go to the Rath of Teltown, where it would be decided whether or not to make the marriage more permanent.   One of the factors that may have helped in the decision was whether or not a child had been born to the couple during the year.  If a child had been born, this was seen as proof of the Goddess’s blessings on the union and the marriage would probably be made more permanent.

The Druids were the Priests, Judges and Teachers of Celtic society.  In their many years of training they were taught the law of the tribes and clans.  The tribal law required that those who had been hurt during the crime, be it robbery, assault, murder or anything else, were to be recompensed for their loss by the perpetrator. This could be in the form of a fine which could include things that would be useful to the victim such as animals, fighting gear, household items or such.  For more severe crimes, the accused most likely would be banished from the clan.  Since capital punishment was not the usual form of punishment, a person might be set adrift in a boat in the Irish Sea with no oars or rudder.  His fate would be decided by the Gods.  Given the rough sea, most likely the person would drown.  Other crimes would elicit tasks which would place the person responsible for the crime in great danger.  If he survived the tasks and completed them in a set period of time, he would be ritually cleansed and then re-instated into the tribe.

Many of the games played at Lughnasadh included foot races, track and field competitions, archery, wrestling and events showing the prowess of the clan’s men.  Our modern Highland Games from Scotland probably descended from the Lughnasadh games.  Although these are now held at various times of the year, many are still held in the traditional time of early August.  Horses were very valuable to the ancient Celts.  The old Irish Kings were wedded to a mare, symbolizing the Goddess of Sovereignty, at their coronation.  Lughnasadh provided the clans with the opportunity to show off their prized horses in races, which were the main event of the festival.  Even today, events such as the Dublin Horse Show, the Connemara Pony Show or the Galway Races take place in late July or early August.

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