In line with the local fire prevention campaign, we were required to cut down the hay in the two and a half acre meadow at the bottom of the property. (This issue’s trivia fact: the bent wooden handle of a scythe, the tall kind the Grim Reaper carries, is called a “snath.” We had to order one through our local hardware store when the old one broke.) To speed things up, we also used a weed whip. While out there mowing, I thought: We should try enacting the old Celtic ceremony of the cutting of the last sheaf.” Up until the introduction of mechanical reaping machines in the last century, it was the custom in all the Celtic countries, and many on the borders of the, to leave standing the last “stook” of hay or grain, and then all those that have worked at the reaping of the field take turns throwing their sickles at it. The one who knocks it down is declared the “King of the Harvest” and the shout goes up that he “has got the Old Woman,” presumably the spirit of the grain/hay-field, which has been driven into the last sheaf as the reapers advanced across the field. In some areas it was called the “Maiden” or the “Corn-Baby.” In each case though, the sheaf was dressed up in makeshift clothes like a woman or a child, and is carried to the Harvest man’s home on the last wagon amidst raucous shouts and song, “like a wedding procession” according to a Welsh source. It was hung up over the hearth, or, in Ireland over the door, or in the barn. In some places it was saved until Yule, when it was fed to the cattle, to keep them healthy. In other places it was kept until the following spring and then scattered over the field before it was sown. (Wrapping the trunks of birch trees in burlap…dressing the Last Sheaf, trimming and decorating Yule trees, What is this Celtic desire to put clothes on plants?) On the Continent, in Gaulish lands, it is a woman who cuts and binds the last sheaf, after which she is called the “Oat-Bride” or “Hay-Bride” or whatever after the grain. She is escorted home amidst dancing and songs typical of weddings.
We left the last stook of hay standing in the field, and on Sunday, after the regular Druid ritual we went out in company and tied the tuft of hay into a sheaf with a rope of braided rush-grass. All the males took turns throwing the short sickle at it, and Larry A.D., knocked it down. He was declared King of the Harvest and the hay-sheaf was dressed up in a cap and apron which Willow-Oak had made. Larry carried it back on a pole.
As we have no cattle to whom to feed it on Yule, we will save it to scatter over the field.
[Picture of Larry with the hay-bride raised up on a pole.]
Lughnasadh, festival of the funeral games of Lugh the Sun God, or, given by Lugh in honor of his father the Sun, depending on your tradition. It is the beginning of the Celtic harvest season, and is often called Festival of the First Fruits. Lugh, from the same root word as light and luminous, is one of the younger generations of gods in the Celtic pantheon. Like other Indo-European solar deities, his growth was rapid,, being the size of a 10 year old when he was 5, and gaining full manly size and skill by age 10 or 12. He is the multi-competent god, not specializing in one function, but capable in all. Even as a child he was expert at any craft or skill from his first attempt at it. As a boy of 8, according to Welsh legend, while his goddess-mother was measuring his foot for a shoe, he picked up a bow and arrow and shot a wren in the leg. This, the story goes on to explain, was the favorite demonstration shot of Celtdom’s best crack archers. His mother was delighted, and Lugh went on to become a parent’s dream come true. He was good at everything, polite, chivalrous, and an example of filial devotion.
Later as a young man, when he applied for admittance to the company of the elder gods, he is quizzed by the gatekeeper as to what he can offer. “I am an excellent smith,” he says. “We have Goibhne the smith,” said the gatekeeper. “We have no need of that.” And this continues to be the reply as he lists each one of his skills. The gods already have one of their number who is an expert in that domain. Finally, frustrated, the boy shouts, “But do you have anyone who can do them all?” The gatekeeper reflects that, no, they do not. And so Lugh is admitted.
Lugh is the patron of craftsmen, apprentices, and artists. In another tradition, he is also associated with money and the accumulation of wealth. This is his only functionalistic connection with a harvest festival. The Funeral Games of Lugh, whose title for this high day may also refer to the fact that by now the Sun is past his Zenith, and is declining again toward the South.
In the R.D.N.A. traditions, anyone who has a garden, grows anything, etc., should save their first picked produce of the summer season, and bring it or a portion of it to the Service, to be offered up in the altar fire, with hopes of prosperity in the years to come.
Lughnasadh Essay: Balor vs. Belenos
A Druid Missal-Any, Lughnasadh 1987
By Emmon Bodfish
Lughnasadh, festival of the funeral games of Lugh the Sun God, or, given by Lugh in honor of his father the Sun, depending on your tradition. It is the beginning of the Celtic harvest season, and is often called festival of the First Fruits. Lugh, from the same root word as light and luminous, is one the younger generations of gods in the Celtic pantheon. The other Solar Deities, Belenos and Balor, the good and the bad aspects of the sun, respectively, are not only pictured as older, mature male figures, but are traceable to the Early Indo-European stratas, in the Eastern European homelands. But Lugh, as the young Shining One, didn’t appear until the Celts had settled Gaul and melded with the Celto-Ligurians and the Pre-Indo-European “Atlantic Wall” cultures which they encountered there, circa 600 B.C. Urnfields replaced passage graves, and typical Celtic farming practices were begun. When the Celto-Ligurians had arrived, a thousand years earlier, there had been no sharp cultural discontinuity, as they blended with the Pre-Indo-Europeans, who continued to build their dolmens and passage graves. Pre-Indo-European traditions were therefore still strong when Celtic Lugh arose and began to replace Belenos as the popular Solar Figure. His ascendant, youthful, headlong character may have been influenced by the Young Year God image common in the Pre-Indo-European cultures of the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts. This archetype has been traced by G. Rachel Levy from the Balkans, to Minoan Greece, along the Mediterranean Coast to France and north to Normandy.
Lugh’s best Indo-European cognate is Apollo of the Greeks. The Greek religion was strongly influenced in other ways by the beliefs and Deities of the Pre-Indo-European people they conquered and absorbed. Odin, Lugh’s Northern cognate, has a much less Solar character. He is more a Shaman, knowledge-bringer, and Divine Wayfarer, going among mortals in disguise. He is not a martial figure; He is not youthful. Lugh is the patron of the harvest, which in Celtic countries began at Lughnasadh. Apollo was worshipped in the Pelopennesus as a god of vegetation, giving Him another link with the “young Year God” of the Western Neolithic. From a magical lawgiver, healer, transformer archetype, which He shares with Odin and Varuna, He evolved, partly through absorption of the Young Year God, into the youthful solar Deity of the later Celtic myths.
In R.D.N.A. traditions, anyone who has a garden, grows anything, etc. should save their first picked produce of the summer season, and bring it or part of it to Lughnasadh Service, to be offered up in the altar fire, with hopes of prosperity in years to come.
Lughnasadh Essay: Summer Games
A Druid Missal-Any, Lughnasadh 1988
By Emmon Bodfish
Originally a celebration of the funeral games held by Lugh, Celtic god of light for his father the Sun,, Lughnasadh marks the Sun’s position half way between Solstice and Equinox. By now, usually August sixth or seventh, the day’s length is noticeably shortened. The sun, re-born on December 22, is in decline, and the season of the harvest, Foghamhar, is coming. This High Day marked the beginning of the harvest in pre-industrial times, and in Druidic times was known as the Festival of the First Fruits. Cutting of the new grain could begin, and “hungry July” was over. In the Celtic countries, this middle-of-the-summer festival is still marked by The Races in Ireland, the Revels in Wales, and the highland Games in Scotland. In a livestock-raising culture like that of the Iron Age Celts, this was the most likely time of market faires and regional gatherings. The calves of the spring were old enough to sell or trade. Likewise the sheep would have been sheared and the lambs were old enough to bartered. This was a festival of the Tuatha, the largest class in the Celtic society, comprised of the farmers, craftsmen and merchants. The other two classes were the Warriors and the Clergy, which last included Bards, Ovates, Filidhs and Druids, their students and retainers.
In the Neo-Pagan R.D.N.A. tradition, anyone who has a garden or grows anything, should save the first picked produce of the summer season and bring it, or a portion of it to the Lughnasadh celebration to be offered along with the Grove Sacrifice and hopes and prayers of prosperity to come.
Lughnasadh Essay: Lugh the Protester
A Druid Missal-Any, Lughnasadh 1989
By Emmon Bodfish
Lughnasadh is the celebration of the funeral games given by the God Lugh for his father, Cian, who was slain by the sons of Turenn. Cian was a shape-shifter and magician, i.e. one of the Druid or clergy-caste. Rhys considers Him a minor solar deity, but in mythology He acts more the part of shaman and ambassador. The games show Lugh’s filial piety, as Lugh represents all that the ancient Celts thought good in a young man. He is the multi-competent god, defender against oppression, patron and teacher of craftspeople and artisans, God of commerce and its wealth, protector of travelers, and Lord of the Harvest.
The figure of the young boy-God, son of one of the old Pantheon, who saves the people from an unjust ruler, in the myth of Lugh, King Breas the Fomor, is a very old and widespread theme in sacred literature. Many cultures have myths dating back probably to the Neolithic, of a young agricultural and solar deity born on the Winter Solstice, who defends the people, exemplifies morality, teaches the arts of civilization, and is associated with the harvest: Lugh, Balder, the Balkan New Year God, Prometheus, Zeus in His battle with the Titans, Mithra, and some aspects of the Moses and Jesus myths. (The early Judeo-Christian writers grafted these age-old aspects of the Young God into the founders of their faith, just as they did with numerous sayings, rituals and ideas borrowed from the older cultures surrounding them. These things were not new.)
Lugh in His defender role was also a tax protestor. When the Celts had fallen under the sway of Breas, a half-Fomor from “under the sea,” Lugh, son of the old God, Cian, appeared. Breas, in one of his acts of mis-rule had levied an oppressive tax on the Tuatha de Danann by means of a deception. Breas is portrayed as a smart man (or demi-god) and clever with words. Then he first joined the de Danann pantheon, before the first battle of Moy Tura, he was the one chosen and sent out to parley with Streng of the FirBolgs. But later as king, he perverts his intelligence into trickery. Like Loci in the German myths, Breas has a legalistic, literalistic, conniving turn of mind. And like Loki, he is an outsider, possibly an adopted God from the pantheon of the Pre-Indo-European inhabitants of the region. He has ancestral ties to the long term enemies of the Pantheon he now serves, Breas represents the negative aspects of intelligence, as Lugh represents the positive ones. The Battles of the Gods, as one school of theology holds, are the battles of the archetypes and choices within the human conscience. “Mythology is not about how things are; it’s about how they feel,” Joan Carruth, circa 1983. Breas had the Tuatha de Danann agree to surrender to him the milk of every cow, in Ireland that was brown and hairless. They agreed. He then caused every cow in Ireland to be passed through a fire which made them all brown, scorched and hairless. A more moderate version of this fire ceremony was part of the annual Beltaine purification rites. This may have made his proposition seem at first hearing acceptable to the Tuatha. Then after perverting the sacred purification rite into a destructive one, he claimed the milk of every cow in Erin. Crops also failed to prosper under Breas’ rule. The people were starving. Lugh came and won acceptance into the Pantheon with his multitude of skills, high character and regal bearing. He vanquished Breas, restored Erin to the Tuatha de Danann and their king, Nuada. Under Nuada’s rule the land prospered and harvests were bountiful. This, in the Celtic theory of sovereignty, was the mark of a true and rightful king.
Celebrate Lughnasadh by offering up to Lugh the first fruits and produce of your gardens, any plants you’ve grown or windfall profits received. (no animals!) Dance, sing, be grateful for the harvest!
Lughnasadh Essay: Cycle of Lugh
A Druid Missal-Any, Lughnasadh 1990
By Emmon Bodfish
Lughnasadh, festival of the god Lugh. In one tradition these festivities marked the funeral games originally held by Lugh in honor of his murdered father Cian. In another tradition, in Ireland, they commemorate the death of Lugh’s divine foster mother Tailtiu, who cleared the forest from the plains of Ireland to make them fit for agriculture and died of the effort. She is a goddess of agriculture and one of the Irish female origin-figures. Irish clans often traced their ancestry to a female divinity, a goddess of the land. Lugh is the son of Ethniu and Cian, and the grandson of Balor, the elder Sun God, whom he later vanquishes in battle, reminiscent of Zeus overthrowing Chronos.
Lugh is the youthful Celtic Deity of Light, eulogized as “The Shining One.” Some see in him an evolved form of the Neolithic “Young Year God,” representing the Sun, born on Winter Solstice, married at Summer Solstice, and triumphant at Lughnasadh when he brings the harvest. He is fated to die on Samhain at the end of the harvest season and to sleep until the returning of the Sun on Winter Solstice.
Lugh is the multi-competent god, patron of all crafts and of commerce, protector of travelers, poet, harper, physician, smithy, magician, and defender of the people against their oppressive Fomorian king. Some scholars think he is cognate with Grecian Apollo. He is master of the throwing spear and has the title “Lamhfada,” long arm, far reaching; he owns the spear that cannot miss its mark but seeks out its enemy.
The Sun is now half way between Solstice and Fall Equinox, and already the days are perceptively shorter, though the strong heat is still to come. This festival marks the beginning of the harvest. The first fruits are of each farmstead were brought and offered in the sacrifice. Sheep had been sheared, and the surplus wool and lambs could be bartered.
In Reformed Druid tradition, any members who have a garden, a fruit tree, or a tree that gives mast or nuts, or wild land that gives any vegetable food, bring the first fruits picked this season to offer in the Lughnasadh bonefire. (No Animals! That was forbidden by The Reform in 1963 which gave us our origin, constitution, and laws.) Lugh’s tree is the apple. I cannot find a scholarly reference on this, but so folklore and tradition have it. (If you know of one, send it in and get a free subscription if it checks out.) Celebrate with apples, apple pie, cider, apple jack, and the planting of apple trees. Lugh is the divine father of the Celtic champion, Cu Chulain. Reread some of these epics* aloud.
*The Tain Translated from the Irish Epic Tain Bo Cuailnge, tr. Thomas Kinsella, Oxford University Press, 1983.
Lughnasadh Essay: Harvest Games
A Druid Missal-Any, Lughnasadh 2001
By Stacey Weinberger
Lughnasadh, funeral games of Lugh in honor of his foster mother, the beginning of the harvest, the Feast of the First Fruits. Technically still summer one can already feel the chill of the coming fall in the air here in Northern California. Though the sun is still setting late into the evening, the daylight hours begin to shorten and effort is begun in earnest to bring in the harvest while there is still light in the sky.
Lughnasadh was a festival that lasted a month long, beginning in mid-July and ending mid-August. It was a time of great feasting and games, as well as being a time of assemblies where political and legal matters were settled. Origins of the festival tell that it was established by Lugh to commemorate his foster-mother Tailtiu, the last queen of the Fir Bolg, who died at Teltown, (in County Meath) on August 1. After clearing the great forests of Ireland for cultivation she collapsed from exhaustion, and as she was dying asked Lugh to hold funeral games in her honor every August.
This year the wheat we left from the offering of the Bride-og beside the Grove altar at Oimelc sprouted. As part of our Lughnasadh service we will be re-enacting the Celtic ceremony of the Iolach Buana, the Reaping Salutation. As is tradition, we will be using a sickle, freshly polished and sharpened for the occasion.
The practice of the reaping salutation appears to be related to the “crying the neck” custom that was practiced on large farms in Devon. An old man, or someone else acquainted with the ceremonies, would go around to the sheaves as the laborers were reaping the last field of wheat, and pick out a little bundle of the best he could find. This bundle he would tie up very neatly and plat and arrange the straws very tastefully. This was called “the neck” of the wheat. After the field had been cut, the reapers, binders, and the women stood around in a circle. The person with “the neck” stood in the center of the circle, grasping it with both hands. He would first stoop and hold it near the ground, and all the men forming the ring would take off their hats, stooping and holding them to the ground in imitation of the person with “the neck.” They then would all begin in a very prolonged and harmonious tone to cry “the neck!” at the same time slowly raising themselves upright, and elevating their arms and hats above their heads. The person with “the neck” did this also raising it on high. This was done three times.
The cries then changed to “Wee yen! Way yen!” which were sounded in the same harmonious manner three times. After this everyone burst out in joyous laughter with much capering about. One of the laborers would then grab “the neck” and run as fast as he could to the farmhouse, where the dairy maid or one of the other female domestics stood at the door with a pail of water ready to douse him, reminiscent of a rain charm. “The neck” was then hung in a place of prominence and honor within the farmhouse where it remained until the spring when it was mixed with the seed corn before it was sown or fed to the horses or cattle at the start of ploughing.
Beannachadh Buana, Reaping Blessing
A Druid Missal-Any, Lughnasadh 2001
From the Carmina Gadelica, collected by Alexander Carmichael
The day the people began to reap the corn was a day of commotion and ceremonial in the townland. The whole family repaired to the field dressed in their best attire to hail the God of the harvest.
Laying his bonnet on the ground, the father of the family took up his sickle, and facing the sun, he cut a handful of corn. Putting the handful of corn three times sunwise round his head, the man raised the "Iolach Buana," reaping salutation. The whole family took up the strain and praised the God of the harvest (ed.: Michael, who Lugh became co-opted by in Christian times,) who gave them corn and bread, food and flocks, wool and clothing, health and strength, and peace and plenty.
When the reaping was finished the people had a trial called “cur nan corran,” casting the sickles, and “deuchain chorran,” trial of hooks. This consisted, among other things, of throwing the sickles high in the air, and observing how they came down, how each struck the earth, and how it lay on the ground. From these observations the people augured who was to remain single and who was to be married, who was to be sick and who was to die, before the next reaping came around.
God Bless Thou Thyself my reaping,
Each ridge, and plain, and field,
Each sickle curved, shapely, hard,
Each ear and handful in the sheaf,
Each ear and handful in the sheaf.
Bless each maiden and youth,
Each woman and tender youngling,
Safeguard them beneath Thy shield of strength,
And guard them in the house of the saints,
Guard them in the house of the saints.
Encompass each goat, sheep and lamb,
Each cow and horse, and store,
Surround Thou the flocks and herds,
And tend them to a kindly fold,
Tend them to a kindly fold.
For the sake of Michael head of hosts,
Of Mary fair-skinned branch of grace,
Of Bride smooth-white of ringleted locks,
Of Columba of the graves and tombs,
Columba of the graves and tombs.
Fall Equinox Notes
The Druid Chronicles (Evolved) 1976
By Isaac Bonewits and Robert Larson
The last big holiday of the year, the Fall Equinox (sometimes called Michaelmas and the Feast of the Hunters,) is a Minor High Day occurring somewhere around September 21st or so. This is a Thanksgiving feast and signals the beginning of the Hunting Season (for deer and other large game) in many parts of Europe and North America. Thus, it is dedicated to the Hunting and Fishing Gods and the Gods of Plenty, in thankfulness for benefits received and hoped for. Outdoor picnics in the woods are a popular Druid tradition in those areas where the weather is still good at this time of year. Hunting magic may be minimized by those Groves living in areas where game is a little dear.
Fall Equinox Essay: Cernunnos
A Druid Missal-Any, Fall Equinox 1982
By Emmon Bodfish
Equinox approaches the time sacred to Cernunnos, the Hunter God. The cult of the horned god/shaman, dressed in the horns and hide of a hoofed prey-animal, is one of the most ancient themes running through Indo-European religions. The cave paintings in France show such a figure and may date from Paleolithic times. (Figure 1) He is seen again on the Gundestrup Cauldron in near-historic times, here with the antlers of a Stag. It would be rash to think of all horned gods are called Cernunnos, as each tribe may have had their own name for him, but the theme of the shaman raised to a god and endowed with horns remains consistent. In southeastern Europe he is associated with the goat, and in parts of Britain with the bull, but always with a horned, food species. He may be the Being commemorated in the horn-dances carried out in a number of English villages up through the 19th century and now exclusive to Abbots Bromley. Originally he seems to have been a hunter’s patron, and later associated with fertility of flocks and herds, and then with fertility in general. This was the tradition of Grecian Pan, and Robin Goodfellow, and later debased into Christian “devil” myths. The Gaelic word “faighe” for prophet, and also the name of one class of Druids, may be cognate of the Proto-Gaelic word for deer, “fiagh,” especially in its genitive case, meaning “of a deer.” In Gaelic cultures there is also an association with the Hazel tree, and again with the after-death world, which we will shortly be contacting in the upcoming festivals of Samhain. His following continued after Christianization, and is reflected in the Highland Calluinn ritual still in practice in the 19th century. The Protestant cleric who recorded it seems to have had no inkling of its meaning, but he asserts that the people of the West Highlands, in the 17th century, before the coming of the Presbyters, were “little more than pagans, having been neglected by the Roman Church.”