Ancient Irish Pagan Festivals Of August and What They Mean??

c)@David Halpin Circle Stories
Lughnansadh is a cross-quarter day festival dedicated to the god Lúgh, although there are similar festivals in European Paganism, with many associations to other incarnations of this figure.
Although it is usually observed around August the 1st, this year the astronomical date of Lughnasadh will fall on August the 7th. It is remarkable how many similar symbols and customs are shared with other countries and, indeed, other deities.
And yet, looking at what the harvest represents, perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised at the attributes and myths associated with the gods and goddesses celebrated at the end of July and early august.
This is the time when the fields are ready to be harvested, the trees are heavy with late summer fruits and the days are warm, calm, and still long. It is a time of plenty and also a time of reflection.
From the grain aspects of Osiris, to the Roman grain goddess, Ceres, through to more obscure harvest deities such as the apple goddess, Pomona, our Northern Hemisphere ancestors saw aspects of the divine in the fulfillment of the earth’s bounty and they honoured this life-giving process accordingly.
In fact, even before Osiris, in ancient Egyptian religion there existed a god of grain called Neper. He was linked to both a goddess of grain, Nepit, as well as a goddess of weaving, Tayt, which is very interesting in light of some of the other myths covered here. Ultimately, as Osiris became a more popular god associated with life, death and resurrection, Neper’s seasonal life-cycle was amalgamated into this larger myth and Neper became an aspect of Osiris.
This is one example of how complicated and intertwined the stories of gods and goddesses can become.
It also sometimes becomes a reason why there are so many different origin myths for deities. Symbols and variations were shared as people moved from one place to another and encountered groups who worshiped and acknowledged their own gods, goddesses, and spirits watching over the same seasonal patterns.
Lugh himself has similarly tangled roots. He is associated with the sky, the sun and storms in the main, but is also considered a master of many arts, writing and contracts. Some consider him the same deity as Lugus and Lleu Llaw Gyffes and there are good arguments for a shared root with Loki and even Odin, for some people. This trickster characteristic also ties Lugh to the Gaulish Mercury figure I have written about in other posts.
Some academics believe that Lugh’s name comes from the Proto-Indo-European root, ‘Leuk’, which means ‘light’. Others argue that the name in fact comes from the root, ‘lugios’, which means ‘oath’. There are cases for both in my own view. Whether it is the solar imagery or the link to contracts, it is hard to see one side winning out over the other at this time. Perhaps the answer is indeed that both are true.
The most surprising connection for many people is Lugh’s link to Prometheus and Lucifer. Now, it should be clarified that Lucifer is not Satan but a hugely complicated figure linked to light, knowledge and rebellion. Although the personas of Lucifer and Prometheus differ, their intentions as light bringers are what concern us.
Rather than falling down that rabbit hole in this short post I would direct people to Peter Grey’s thorough examination of this archetype, Lucifer: Princeps.
Although many Lughnasadh celebrations take place on the last Sunday of July, the original, astronomical date would fall halfway between the summer solstice and the autumn equinox. So, as we can see, this is a cross-quarter day celebration and one which was recorded well before the Celtic celebrations by Ireland’s ancient people in many monuments through stone alignments.
This year, the Lughnasadh cross-quarter day will actually fall on August the 7th. In later Irish mythology, Lughnasadh was a festival in remembrance of (some say) the earth goddess, Tailtiu, who perished having prepared the land for agriculture. There are some interesting parallels between Tailtiu and the Cailleach, not least the aspect of cleared land, but more on that another time.
Lugh, according to The Book of Invasions, was Tailtiu’s foster-son, and it was he who started the tradition of games in her honour.
Traditionally, some of the events which would take place were athletic contests as well as feats of physical prowess. Matchmaking was another association with Lughnasadh, as well as making bargains and deals. We can notice the ‘oath’ and ‘contract’ motifs here. Perhaps the Irish lore linking the sky battles over mountains between Lugh and Balor tie into the later customs of physical contests?
The folklorist Márie MacNeill also mentions the idea of Lugh stealing the ‘treasure’ of life and crops from the god, Crom Dubh, for mankind. As we can notice, this has very interesting similarities to the Prometheus and Lucifer stories, alluded to earlier in the post. Some believe that the figure of St. Patrick replaced Lugh in this battle and the figures of Balor and Crom Dubh became representations of Paganism through Crom Cruach, the vanquished god. This also ties in to the custom of climbing mountains and in particular, Cruach Aigle, now known as Croagh Patrick.
Recently, engravings and prehistoric art have been discovered on the Croagh Patrick pilgrimage route, demonstrating the pre-Christian, Pagan importance of the mountain. The art has been dated as being at least 5’800 years old.
The ceremonial and sacred practice of ‘rounding rituals’ which takes place at this time is also ancient and worldwide. There is a strong tradition of visiting Holy Wells around Lughnasadh where this practice also takes place. Circumambulation is really a meditative and, some say, a magical and shamanic practice, which also has variants in many esoteric spiritual traditions and witchcraft.
We can also link this practice to what I would term ‘witchwalking’.…/megalithic-rock-scribing-found…
I’m sure most are aware of the transition and crossover of Lughnasadh over time to the celebrations of Lammas and Reek Sunday. As we have encountered on the Circle Stories journey, the old, Irish Pagan celebrations were given a Christian makeover in order to assimilate them into the ‘new’ religion. Of course, the original reason for acknowledging the feast is easily revealed by paying attention to the symbols and celebrations associated with the date.
@David Halpin Circle Stories