Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Celtic festival of Lughnasadh

This is the name of the ancient Celtic festival of the harvest. It celebrated the season for gathering the fruits of one's labors; the corn, oats, and grains, and planted summer bounty.
The name is derived from Lugh (pronounced 'loo'), a Celtic deity of light and wisdom. At Lughnasadh, bread from the first harvest was eaten in thanks. It is a time for appreciating what has come to
fruition to nourish and sustain you. A time of Thanksgiving. Baking, sharing, and eating bread is a wonderful way to celebrate this holiday. Even though Lughnasadh occurs at the warmest time of the
year, it marks the time at which days become noticeably shorter and thus is considered the starting point of the autumn quarter of the year. So, this can also be a time to consider which aspects of your
life you wish to preserve and which you would prefer to discard.

One of my favorite scholars and authors on things Celtic is Mara Freeman. The following is excerpted and edited from her explanation of the festival of Lughnasadh.
The Celtic harvest festival on August 1st takes its name from the Irish god Lugh, one of the chief gods of the Tuatha De Danann, an early Irish race. Lugh dedicated this festival to his foster-mother, Tailtiu, the last queen of the Fir Bolg (an earlier Irish race), who died from exhaustion after clearing a great forest so that the land could be cultivated. When the men of Ireland gathered at her death-bed, she told them to hold funeral games in her honor. As long as they were held, she prophesied Ireland would not be without song. Tailtiu’s name is from Old Celtic Talantiu, "The Great One of the Earth," suggesting she may originally have been a personification of the land itself, like so many Irish goddesses. At this time of year the earth gives birth to her first fruits so that her children might live. In later times, the festival of Lughnasadh was christianized as Lammas, from the Anglo-Saxon, hlaf-mas, "Loaf-Mass."
To celebrate Lughnasadh, hugh sporting contests were held on the scale of an early Olympic Games. Artists and entertainers displayed their talents, traders came from far and wide to sell food, farm animals, fine crafts and clothing, and there was much storytelling, music, and high-spirited revelry. In some places, a woman—or an effigy of one—was crowned with summer flowers and seated on a throne, with garlands strewn at her feet. Dancers whirled around her, touching her garlands or pulling off a ribbon for good luck. In this way, perhaps, the ancient goddess of the harvest was still remembered with honor.
Throughout the centuries, the grandeur dwindled away, but all over Ireland, right up to the middle of this century, country-people have celebrated the harvest at revels, wakes, and fairs – and some still continue today in the liveliest manner. It was usually celebrated on the nearest Sunday to August 1st, so that a whole day could be set aside from work. Because Lughnasadh is a celebration of the new harvest, people cooked special ritual and festive meals. Below is a traditional recipe you can make  today.

 The  Lughnasadh Bannock:
In Scotland, the first fruits were celebrated by the making of a 'bonnach lunastain' or Lunasdál bannock, or cake. In later times, the bannock was dedicated to Mary, whose feastday, La Feill Moire, falls on August 15th, two days later than the date of Lammas according to the old reckoning (and also the feast day of Mother Mary's Assumption in Christianity). A beautiful ceremony, which, no doubt, had pagan origins, attended the cutting of the grain (usually oats or bere.) In the early morning, the whole family, dressed in their best, went out to the fields to gather the grain for the ‘Moilean Moire,’ the ‘fatling of Mary.’ They laid the ears on a sunny rock to dry, husked them by hand, winnowed them in a fan, ground them in a quern, kneaded them on a sheepskin, and formed them into a bannock. A fire was kindled of rowan or another sacred wood to toast the bannock, then it was divided amongst the family, who sang a beautiful paean to Mother Mary while they circled the fire in a sunwise direction.
 Here is a modern recipe you can try:
            Pitcaithly Bannock
8 oz flour
4 oz butter
2 oz caster sugar
1oz chopped almonds
1oz mixed candied peel
Set oven to 325F/Gas 3. Grease a baking sheet. Sift the flour into a bowl. Add the sugar and butter and rub in to form a dough. Add the almonds and mix in the peel, making sure they are evenly distributed. Form into a thick round on a lightly floured surface and prick all over with a fork. Place on the sheet and bake for
about 45-60 minutes. Allow to cool and serve sliced thinly and buttered.
From: Country Cookery - Recipes from Wales by Sian Llewellyn.
© Mara Freeman 1998

Here is a really fantastic website that talks about all things Lughnasadh.

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