The Wheel of the Year has turned to a cross-quarter day, Lughnasadh, beginning the season of manifestation and abundance in the northern hemisphere. Acknowledging and celebrating the eight “spokes” of the wheel of the neo-Pagan year gives you the opportunity to tune into and honor the Earth’s solar cycle, the natural world around you, and your inner cycles of change and growth. While Wheel of the Year ceremonies are spiritual, I appreciate that they give me another opportunity to get real about my life and the state of all life on this planet.
The central figure of Lughnasadh, also called Lammas or Lamas (Loaf-mas), is Lugh, a Celtic god of light and the sun. Lugh (Lug) is part of the Tuatha Dé Danann of Irish myth. When Lugh was born, his grandfather, Balor, received a prophecy that he would be killed by his grandson. Balor had infant Lugh thrown into the ocean. Lugh miraculously (or with the help of the fae, depending on which version of the story you come across) survives. One of the foster mothers Lugh may have had was Tailtiu, a Celtic goddess of the Earth.
Lugh becomes skilled in many things, including warfare, and kills his grandfather, Balor, in battle. Later, Lugh kills the lover of one of his wives, and is subsequently drowned by the lover’s sons as revenge. The lake where Lugh was believed to have died has since been called Lake Lugborta.
Lugh’s story of apparent death and resurrection, gaining power, than dying again, parallels the sun’s cycle of strengthening and fading and strengthening again. His festival, Lughnasadh, happens around the first of August, and was said to be a day of athletic games and feasting on what is first to be harvested in honor of Lugh’s mother, Tailtiu, who died of exhaustion after clearing Ireland’s fields for the first farmers.
The lyrics of John Barleycorn, a Scottish folk song associated with Lughnasadh, personifies the growing of barley, cutting it down, and distilling it into beer and whiskey and repeats Lugh’s growth, death, and rebirth cycle.
Celebrating The Harvest: Lammas /Lughnasadh/ Freyfaxi at Celebrate Pagan Holidays
Lugh at Bard Mythologies
Lugh: Tales of the Trickster God at Timeless Myth
Damh the Bard’s John Barleycorn lyrics
John Barleycorn by Damh the Bard on Spotify
What’s Real Here
My home is in a northern mountain region with a short growing season. The first of my garden tomatoes, if I have managed to keep a vine alive, usually ripen within days of Lughnasadh. I love the idea of growing food but, honestly, I am usually distracted from tending shortly after the plants go into the ground. Instead, I pay attention to the wild ones.
Yellow is the predominant wildflower color. Goldenrod and black-eyed susans have started blooming. Red, flame-shaped flowers top the shrubby sumac. Milkweed is blooming, too, while feeding hungry caterpillars. Monarch butterflies, once plentiful here throughout most of the summer, now appear in small numbers around Lughnasadh to complete their own cycle of growth as a caterpillar, apparent death in the cocoon, and rebirth as a mature butterfly. Baby birds hatched earlier this summer have fledged and might be spotted following a parent into the feeders. The squirrels are active, picking up the first acorns to drop and, like the birds, enjoying sunflower seeds in the feeders.
Lughnasadh is the height of the season of growth. Where I live, August weather is often hot and humid, which slows the pace of life. There is little need to rush, though, as there is an abundance of food at hand. The wildlife and I can be lazy in the afternoon heat.
Symbols of the Season
Whether you are decorating an altar, preparing a ritual, or just want to be in the energy of Lughnasadh season, here are some ideas:
- Orange, yellow, gold, brown, or any color dominant in your landscape at this time to signify what is growing.
- Candles or a bonfire represent the strong sun.
- Flowers in bloom such as aster, goldenrod, marigold, and sunflower.
- Corn or corn stalks, and any other ripe grain.
Gemstones such as amber, citrine, and tigers eye capture the sun’s energy. Jen of Hot Mess Healing, a regular podcast guest, points out that citrine is excellent for attracting abundance and keeping that energy flowing since it never needs cleansing. Jen also added pyrite, which is her favorite stone for manifesting, and green and red aventurine, which enhance your leadership skills and draw abundance. (Check out some of Jen’s gemstone jewelry on her Facebook page. You can message her there to request a custom piece with the stone of your choice, too.)
- I asked Sheri of Glitter Witch Gardens for some Lughnasadh herbs, and she recommended cooling mint, which also attracts abundance into your life, and resin incense such as frankincense and sandalwood for scent. (See Sheri’s post for more herbal suggestions.)
- I am vegan and I have consciously stopped relating farmed animals to the Wheel of the Year, since their symbolism often involves their eventual slaughter. Wildlife provides ample examples of Lughnasadh energy, however. Stags, who are mature male deer, have regrown their antlers for the year in preparation for mating in the fall and represent the fullness of virility in summer. Eagle has powerful sun energy. Squirrels are enjoying the abundance available as nuts and seeds mature and are just beginning to “harvest” their winter stores.
Crows and ravens also enjoy the abundance of food and are associated with Lughnasadh. Crow and Lugh are both archetypal tricksters and crows like to hang out in corn fields, whether there is a scarecrow there or not. I chose to honor Crow in my Lughnasadh ritual.
Biodiversity to Celebrate
Crows are smart. Crows are known to build and use tools, play games (like the tricksters they are), and even ritually mourn their dead. They use those smarts to find food and have been known to outwit humans to get it. Most of us have seen a depiction of a scarecrow standing guard over a cornfield, perhaps ironically with a crow sitting on it. Their ability to get what they want and their association with fields of corn inspired me to celebrate American crows, the species I see here, at Lughnasadh.
Crows have a diverse diet, which has helped them adapt to a human-dominated world. They will raid nests of other birds, grab small snakes, frogs, and turtle hatchlings, pick at carrion, and chow down on a human’s discarded sandwich. Crows will harass eagles and other predators to steal their catch. A big part of a crow’s diet, however, is seeds and fruits, which leads to conflicts with farmers who employ crow-deterring scarecrows and deep planting techniques to keep their crops safe. Crows also eat bugs, including some invasive garden pests.
I admire the tenacity of crows. Their population has increased while other birds are declining, due in good part to the ways we humans unintentionally feed them. Besides planting rows of yummy corn and littering, we cannot seem to drive without running over the other beings trying to cross the street. Crows find an abundance of roadkill, especially in the summer when wildlife is most active and otherwise quiet wilderness areas fill with tourists.
All is not well for crows, though. Since the West Nile virus first spread into North America in 1999, about 45% of the crow population has died from the disease. Like all wild, more-than-human beings, crows are deserving of love, respect, and protection.
Humans like to celebrate holidays with feasts, and Lughnasadh is no exception. As a vegan, usually I have to adjust my Wheel of the Year menus, but most Lughnasadh’s foods are either already plant-based or easily made so. Here are some recipes that you can include in your Lughnasadh meal:
- Corn on the cob (grilled for extra sun energy)
- Fresh bread (try this easy vegan bread recipe)
- Berry pie (I have found a number of commercial frozen pie crusts are “accidentally vegan” in that they have no dairy, but you can make your own. This mixed berry pie recipe uses a commercial crust.)
- Dishes made from whatever is ready to harvest from your garden or available from your local farmers
- Beer! (most beer is vegan, but watch for honey, whey, or other animal products used as flavoring)
If you work with cacao personally or in ceremony, consider what you might add to cacao drink to connect to the season. Cacao is naturally “sunny,” but a sprinkle of cinnamon can enhance the sun energy already present for Lughnasadh. If you like to lighten your cacao, use oatmilk to honor the grains.
Offering to the Earth
During Lughnasadh season, offer the Earth a portion of whatever you are havesting (or whatever you picked up at the local farmers’ market). You can also offer bread in small amounts, as bread can be harmful to birds. Please consider all wildlife when giving back to the Earth and do not leave anything as an offering that may be toxic to those smaller than humans.
Activities to Try
Tune into the Lughnasadh season energy by trying one or more of the following activities, on your own, with your family, or with a group:
- Harvest your garden with an attitude of gratitude. Say thank you with each tomato or green bean you pick.
Make corn or wheat dollies. There are many tutorials out there, but I particularly like this one.
- Feed the birds and squirrels. Look for a seed mix with sunflower seeds and dried corn pieces for a Lughnasadh tie-in. (If you live in an area with bears, bring your feeders in at night to avoid attracting bears close to your home.)
- Finish a project. Lughnasadh is about completion, so dig out a work in progress and plan to wrap it up before the September Equinox.
- Play a sport in honor of Lugh.
- Commit, or recommit, to serving the Earth. Perhaps you will make a promise to cut your plastic waste by twenty percent. You might join or volunteer for an organization doing wilderness or wildlife conservation. I was drawn to initiating into my Druid order at Lughnasadh.
A Deeper Meaning
As the Wheel of the Year turns, each season’s energy in some way supports your inner work as well as what you are bringing into the world. It is up to each of us, individually, to find a deeper meaning in our ceremonies and rituals, but I can lead you to an area to explore.
For Lughnasadh, I tap into the powerful sun energy that ripens grains and fruits to manifest my intentions. Rarely does anything come to fruition without work, though. If you planted a garden, you know that. If you have done the steps of intention-setting, putting energy into your intention (both physically and energetically), and finding the power within to make it happen, then this is the season to MAKE IT SO.