Lughnasadh (pronounced Loo-nash-ah) is the first of three Celtic harvest festivals, and honors the decent of the Sun God, Lugh, into the Underworld. A modern version of this ancient harvest festival is known as Burning Man.
Lughnasadh (the binding promise, or duty of Lugh) is celebrated from sunset July 31 through sunset August 1. Beginning on this day the sun’s arc moves noticeably south in the sky. It becomes obvious that the nights are growing a bit longer, the days shorter. The first grains and fruits are ripe and ready for harvest. We are able to reap partial rewards for our labor, and our faith, and celebrate the promise of life sustained. However, the majority of the harvest is yet to come.
Traditionally it is at this time that the Sun God, or May King, is sacrificed in order to assure a plentiful harvest. His role as Earth Mother’s consort is completed, and he willingly resigns his body and spirit to the fire. So begins his journey towards the Underworld, where he will await rebirth at the Winter Solstice.
In ancient times the sacrifice was real; the king himself. Hence the legend of the sacrificial king, who dies in order to assure life to his people. Three examples familiar to many in the western world are, Dionysus, Jesus of Nazareth, and King Arthur. However, in this civilized age, an effigy of the Sun God is made from sticks and flowers. (At our celebrations he is almost seven feet tall!) He is praised with songs and with poems.
The Celts believed that any fears concerning the safety of the crops, would decrease the potential harvest. They felt that if there were unresolved conflicts between people, any hidden enmity, it would decrease the harvest yet to come. The sacrifice of the Wicker Man was used to clear negative feelings and thoughts from the village.
Lughnasadh gives us the opportunity to cast our fears and doubts into the sacrificial fire, by pinning them on the Wicker Man. Our negative thoughts and feelings are negative only to us. To Earth and Sun, they are merely energy from which to produce life. Each person in the circle pins their negative thoughts and feelings to the Wicker Man before he is cast into the fire to take with him on his journey.
By pinning our fears on the dying sun, we are giving him the energy he needs to make the journey into darkness, where he will transform what is damaging into new life; fresh, clear and available to all who honor his rebirth at the Winter Solstice.
Before the actual celebration it is advised to consider what misgivings and doubts are holding you back from truly knowing that the coming harvest (your dreams) will be fulfilled. Consider what causes you fear, discord, unhappiness, worry. What scares you. What terrifies you. And open your heart to having these fears burned away—Open your heart to the possibility of transforming these fears into new life—into the very bread of life.
An example of the type of statement for each person to place in the Lughnasadh fire is: “I willingly consign to the flames (fill in your fear, doubt, conflict, pain) which is keeping me from recognizing the truth that my dreams are attainable and life is ever renewing.”
Although this might sound like a “heavy” ritual, it is in fact a time for fun and laughter and release. The Wicker Man willingly takes all our concerns with him into the fire of transformation. We are free to play and enjoy life without the self-imposed burden of feeling responsible for the Universe (whether that means our little universe or the whole enchilada!). We turn it over—let it go—and reclaim the energy to love and live and laugh.
To give you a taste of what we do to honor Lughnasadh: The Wicker Man is built during the day of July 31. We walk the land just before sunset and light Tiki torches at each cardinal direction. As the sun sets, the fire is lit and drumming begins. Everyone pins there offering to the Wicker Man and says a prayer that the offering is accepted. Then the Wicker Man is passed from person to person. Everyone dances with him – some of the dancing can be quite raucous. There is an abandon experienced when one dances with a sacrificial offering – there are no more tomorrows, no plans, no second chances – one can dance freely without expectations. It is a time to dance with Death and feel Life.
When the Wicker Man comes full circle the last person, or the Sabbat leaders, dance the effigy over to the fire and consigns him to the flames. The drumming increases as everyone dances around the fire, which is truly blazing, and watches as the Wicker Man is consumed.
When the flames allow, the loaf of bread, which was placed inside the chest cavity of the Wicker Man, is taken from the flames and each participant eats a piece of bread in honor of the Sun King. A goblet of red wine is passed around the circle and everyone drinks in honor of the Goddess. The dancing continues until fatigue and/or hunger wins out.
Lughnasadh is a family celebration, where food and fun are primary. It is an honoring of Life’s abundance. Have folks over for dinner, or a picnic. At night go outside and watch the stars. August is a time when many meteors are visible – make a wish on a falling star and know your wish will come true.
Lughnasadh divination is animal based. Look to your pets and/or wildlife that happen across your path on the morning of August first. It is said that animals know the changing of seasons and can foretell coming events (such as the groundhog on Feb 2) Also pay close attention to any animals that come to you in dreams during the night of July 31.
May the blessings of the season find a place in your hearts and lives.