Let’s hope the rain holds off!
Although Lughnasadh is specifically Irish, the cross-quarter day August 1 is marked across the British Isles, where it is now mostly known as Lammas, from the Old English hlāfmæsse from hlāf ‘loaf’ and ‘bread’ and mæsse ‘mass’, and it celebrates the first harvest and first fruits of the season.
What the original name of the feast in what is now England and Wales was is unknown, but it was quite possibly cognate with the Irish. For Lugh is the Irish form of Lugus — the name of one of the most important of the Celtic Pagan Gods, whose name is recorded across the Celtic world.
This also survives in the Welsh form Lleu – and it may be cognate with the Norse Loki. Loki and Lugh certainly share a lot in common. They are both tricksters. Moreover, Lugus is often considered the Celtic version of Odin, and it has been suggested that Loki is in fact an aspect of Odin too.
Some depictions of Lugus hint him being a triple God; he is sometimes presented with three faces — and other times with three phalluses. This is also supported by some Irish myths in which Lugh is said to have been one of triplets, and it has been suggested he is the triple God composed of of the deities Esus, Toutatis and Taranis, recorded by Roman historians.
Today, Lugh is often perceived as a sacrificial God of rebirth, representing the cycle of agriculture — a John Barleycorn-like figure who is sown, grows and harvested; some of the grain is prepared as bread, some stored, to begin the cycle all over again.
But what is the source of the name?
Traditionally, Lugus was said to be from the Proto-Indo-European *lewko- ‘to shine’ – the same source as the Latin lux, from which last week’s Pick of the Week Lucius derives.
However, there are linguistical problems with this, and it may be that it actually comes from the opposite Proto-Indo-European *leug- ‘blackness’ (raising the same interesting parallels regarding duality of meaning as I discussed with Blake), or Common Celtic: *lug- ‘oath’.
However, *lewko- ‘to shine’ is still possible and plausible, perhaps developing from a parallel root *lewg- instead of directly from the traditional *lewko-.
How the festival was celebrated in England and Wales in pre-Christian times is lost, along with the accompanying myths. But Irish Lughnasadh is different.
According to Irish myth, Lughnasadh was instituted by Lugh in honor of his foster-mother Taillte, who died after preparing Ireland for its first sowing.
It passed into the Christian calendar, preserving its Pagan name (in the same way Easter does).
Like the other cross-quarter celebrations (i.e. the festivals which fall mid-way between the solar feasts of the solstices and equinoxes) — Lughnasadh is a fire festival, marked with bonfires.
To this day in Ireland, Lughnasadh is a time of celebration and family reunions, when the priests bless the fields.
Brian Friel’s 1990 play Dancing at Lughnasa captures its essence well.
Unlike some of the other festivals, Lughnasadh has yet to be adopted as a given name in its own right, though with the meaning ‘feast of Lugh’ in Irish, it — or the modern Irish Lúnasa — would make an excellent name. As, indeed, does the English Lammas.
And Lugh, Lugus, Lleu and Loki are all very worthy of consideration, especially at this time of year!