As one of three annual harvest celebrations marked in the Witch's sabbat cycle, Lughnasadh doesn't seem like much of a stand-out. Unless you're tending crops on a daily basis, you're not very likely to be especially filled with excitement over the thought of the first harvest, as opposed to the second or third harvest. The book Lughnasadh in Llewellyn's Sabbat Essentials series will help you find unique ways to celebrate the Lughnasadh sabbat. While we modern Pagans may struggle to find ways to celebrate and differentiate Lughnasadh, to the ancients, it was an important holiday distinct from any other. From community fairs and competitions to potluck feasts and public weddings, Pagans of the past honored the sacred day of Lughnasadh in big, bold ways that often involved the whole community. If you're looking for some ways to turn your own Lughnasadh celebration into something memorable and crowd-worthy, you can find inspiration in the older customs of Pagans past. By exploring the ancient celebrations and employing a little creative thinking, you'll be able to give your own twist to traditional elements to create a Lughnasadh sabbat that's fun for all.
The Fair of Tailteann was held on Lughnasadh in County Meath, Ireland since at least the sixth century, and perhaps even earlier. The site of celebration is near a gravesite that local legend holds to be that of none other than Tailtiu, mthylogical stepmother to the Celtic god Lugh and the personage for whom the Fair is named. Celtic myths recount stories of Tailtiu exhausting herself to the point of death by clearing the fields of Ireland in order to ready them for planting, and some tales credit Lugh with initiating the very first Fair of Tailteann in his stepmother's honor after her sacrificial, martyred passing. While such stories can't be proven, the crowds who have gathered for the fair speak volumes to the celebration's enduring importance. Thousands of people from throughout Ireland and Scotland would travel to County Meath just for the chance to take part in the Fair of Tailteann, which later became known as Telltown on the Blackwater. Throughout its long history, the fair included many diverse amusements such as athletic games, chariot races, sports, contests, and feasting. Such fairs were common throughout Ireland, with County Kildare hosting a full seven days of races at the fair of Carman, and Leinster's fair attracting crowds from districts far and wide for six days of games and competitions.
If you'd like to bring some of the excitement of the traditional August country fair into your own Lughnasadh celebration, be sure to incorporate plenty of games, sports, and competitions. Consider volleyball, flag football, throwing competitions, dodge ball, foot races, tennis matches, water gun battles, tug-of-war bouts, frisbee, and other picnic favorites. Be sure to include activities suitable for the full age range of guests you plan to invite. Try shuffleboard, bingo, or card games for older guests, and consider jump rope competitions, bubble blowing contests, and sack races for the younger kids. To add to the fun and fuel the spirit of friendly competition, hand out prizes to the winners. Prizes might include ribbons, silly hats, banners, or gift baskets.
Love and (Temporary) Marriage
Lughnasadh was also a time of romance, when lovers united in trial partnerships that might last throughout the course of the Lughnasadh celebrations, or for a whole year and a day, until the time of the next August fair. Such temporary unions were sometimes called "Telltown marriages," after the fair of Telltown on the Blackwater where this practice was a common sight. Many couples would make their lover's bond more permanent at Lughnasadh through marriage ceremonies called handfastings. With hands clasped and bound together, vows were uttered, and gifts of gold coins, rings, silver toothpicks, red ribbons, or gloves were exchanged between the newly united partners, all to the witness of crowds of Lughnasadh revelers.
To add some romance to your Lughnasadh celebration, consider arranging your own sort of Telltown marriages to last not for a year and a day, but simply for the length of your party. Invite guests to fill out cards of invitation letting other guests know they might be interested in being their Telltown marriage partners for the day. Gather the cards and distribute them discreetly so that the recipients can evaluate each invitation privately. Once all the invitations have been distributed, have your guests gather and ring a bell. The guests who wish to accept the invitations they received can step forward, holding out the card so that its author will know they've been chosen. The newly formed couples can then spend a few minutes getting to know each other a little better, and if all seems amiable, seal their very temporary union more formally. Ask any couples who wish to be "married" for the course of the celebration to join hands. Already established couples can choose one another as a symbolic way of renewing their romantic vows. Tie the couples' hands together with a red ribbon, or simply brush their interwoven hands lightly with a bouquet of flowers to formalize the bond. Over the course of the celebration, incorporate activities and challenges for the new couples to conquer together, be it dancing competitions, couples card games like Bridge or Spades, or a couples scavenger hunt. At the end of the evening, invite the couples to peacefully say their goodbyes, and exchange contact information if they think they might like to continue their newly forged friendship.
Community potlucks and feasts were another way the ancients gathered in numbers to celebrate Lughnasadh. As a way to celebrate the first harvest of the growing season, the bounty of grains and vegetables was enjoyed along with much dancing, frivolity, and floral decoration. The earliest celebrations may have included the sacrifice of a bull and subsequent feasting on beef, in addition to special rituals that were enacted to pay respect to the first fruits of the harvest. As a prelude to the bull sacrifice, the first ear of corn that was plucked from the fields was carried to a hilltop and buried with great ceremony, presented as an offering back to the earth for the bountiful harvest provided. In Scotland, the beginning of August was celebrated with a special food called the bonnach lunastain, a type of bannock. This simple flat bread was made of oats, barley, wheat, rye, or other grains that were mixed into a water-based dough and cooked on a griddle. Friends and family would gather together outdoors to share the bonnach lunastain, and pieces of the cake were thrown to the winds in an offering intended to appease the foxes and other animals that might otherwise be tempted to eat the livestock.
In Anglo-Saxon England, a loaf of bread was baked from the first harvested grains, which were considered sacred. The bread was marked with a cross on top in order to further bless it and infuse it with special power. Such bread was believed to have magickal properties, and placing a piece of it at each corner of a dwelling or storehouse was said to confer a divine protection on the building and its contents. After the first of the bread was consecrated, large feasts were held for everyone to enjoy.
If you want your Lughnasadh sabbat to be an occasion to remember, consider including a large feast or special foods in your celebration. You might host a potluck, inviting friends, neighbors, and relatives to bring a favorite dish to share. Try a bread-making party or even a cooking contest if your guests are culinarily-minded. Outdoor feasts are also nice. Consider holding your party in a field or on a hilltop; perhaps an open-air barbeque or picnic would suit your crowd. Prepare special foods in honor of the harvest such as locally-sourced seasonal fruits, berries, and veggies, or freshly harvested grains. After the feast, put on some music so your party goers can dance the night away.
One thing that makes Lughnasadh special is its ability to bring us together. Whether it's a community-wide fair or festival or an intimate picnic with a handful of friends, our Lughnasadh celebrations offer us the opportunity to enjoy the blessings of friendship and camaraderie just as we enjoy the blessings of good food and fun. For more ways to celebrate Lughnasadh and for recipes, crafts, rituals, spells, and information on the history and lore of this sabbat, see Lughnasadh in Llewellyn's Sabbat Essentials series.