Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Celebrating the Harvest

Brightest Blessings Everyone!

Today is the ancient Celtic festival of the harvest, the first of three harvest festivals including Mabon and Samhain. This day takes its name from the Irish god Lugh, one of the Tuatha De Danann. Today is know as Lughnasadh is Ireland and Lunasdál in Scotland. However, Lughnasadh has an older name, Brón Trogain. This name refers to the pain that comes with childbirth, which is fitting because this is the time of the year that the earth gives birth to the first of her bounty.

The Lughnasadh festival was started by Lugh as a feast dedicated to his foster-mother, Tailtiu, who died from exhaustion after clearing a great forest in Ireland to be cultivated and farmed. She told the men of Ireland on her death-bed to hold games in her honor, and if they did so, Ireland would not be without song. That is why it is not uncommon to have contests of strength and skill at this time. Her name, which comes from the Celtic Talantiu or "The Great One of the Earth", suggests that she was a personification of the land itself. We honor her today for her sacrifice as well as the sacrifice of the earth, because no harvest comes without a sacrifice.

The Anglo-Saxon and Christian version of this festival is Lammas or hlaf-maesse, which means loaf-mass. In Wales this day was called Gwyl Awst or the "August Feast". This day marks the end of the hay harvest that began at Midsummer. In ancient times the first loaves of the harvest were blessed by the Church. In Ireland it was considered bad to harvest before Lammas because it meant that last year's harvest had run out early.

In pagan culture today the names Lammas and Lughnasadh are used almost interchangeably. Though the name is not important, the festival itself is. Today is the time to celebrate the first day of harvest and the beginning of the grain reaping. We honor those who have come before and who have sacrificed for our benefit. We give thanks for that which we have and send out hopes for that which we need. Today is a time of transformation. It is a time of death and endings, but also of rebirth and new beginnings. I personally like to use today as a time to reflect on the Circle of Life (yes another Disney reference). We sacrifice the crops and grains of the seasons to nourish our bodies but we will one day nourish the crops and it continues in a never-ending cycle of life and death and rebirth.

Tonight decorate your altar with the symbols of the harvest like sickles and scythes. Fill baskets with dried grains such as wheat or corn, late summer fruits like apples and peaches, as well as early fall vegetables like pumpkins and squash. Cornucopias are actually really good Lammas decorations. Create garlands out of ivy and grapes. Include corn dolls and statues of harvest and hearth gods like Demeter, Dionysus, and Hestia. Incorporate colors of the season. The leaves are beginning to change so pull from them fiery reds, yellows and oranges. Honor the earth and the crops of the harvest with cool browns and greens. Burgundies and purples are other good choices for this time.

My favorite way off celebrating Lughnasadh is by baking homemade bread with local ingredients I've gathered either from my own garden, from friends, or purchased at the local farmers market. The closer the connection the ingredients have to me the better. I don't have a specific recipe or type of bread I bake, I usually try to do something new every year and it also depends on the ingredients I can get my hands on (though I like ones with honey and raisins). It's tradition to make the loaf in the shape of a man to symbolize the god or goddess of the harvest. However, I like the look of braided bread. Besides the more time I spend on the bread the more energy and power that gets put into it (I'm a little bit of a kitchen wytch because I use cooking as part of my magick). I then (symbolically) break bread with the deities and make an offering of my labors to thank them for my bounty. 

Another of my ways of celebrating the harvest is using smudge sticks to cleanse my home of negative energies. White sage is a personal favorite, which I sometimes follow with sweetgrass to draw in positive energies (especially during ritual). After smudging, I meditate on what I will be harvesting for this year, whether in the physical sense or the spiritual sense. I think about my ancestors and the hardships they had to face in order for my life to be as comfortable as it is today. Lastly, I think about the earth and the changing of seasons and how we all go through the cycles of life and death.

Well hope ya'll had a good ritual and a great day, and as always Blessed Be!