Wicca, Witchcraft and Paganism, for the Novice to the Crone

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There is very little historical evidence of what actually took place at a Celtic Lughtnasa gathering. We know that it was celebrated around August I and included a tribal gathering. From the date it seems likely that Lughnasa marked the beginning of the harvest, but this is not recorded; it was the Anglo-Saxons that titled it a feast of first fruits. It is possible that Lughnasa initially marked a summer roundup of flocks and herds and only later became a feast of first fruits.

Most of the clues as to the real nature and practices of Lughnasa come from folklore survivals. From these we can tell that the celebrations took place on a hilltop or near a holy well. There were games and contests, a bull sacrifice and feast, and trial marriages were entered into.

Folklore survivals of Lughnasa are celebrated under a wide variety of names, such as Bilberry Sunday, Garland Sunday, and Domhnach Crom Dubh ("Crom Dubh Sunday"), depending on the locality, at various dates between mid-July and mid-August. To begin our investigation into this ancient festival, we should begin by looking at some of these.

Hilltop Gatherings and Pilgrimages

Assemblies on hilltops are a traditional part of the proceedings. In Ireland and the Isle of Man, many of these hilltop gatherings have survived to the present day. Some have become associated with the local Christian saint and many more with St. Patrick. These Christianized forms of an earlier tradition are typically a strange combination of the sacred and the profane. A pilgrimage, often barefoot, accompanied by a great deal of praying, would often be followed by drinking, dancing, fighting, and very unruly behavior. Such pilgrimages were undertaken as a penance for past sins and to gain remission in purgatory in the afterlife. Nineteenth-century Protestant observers were horrified by what they considered to be idolatry and gross immorality on the part of the Catholic peasants.

Yet other hilltop assemblies show no sign of having been taken over by the Christian religion, These survivors of Pagan Lughnasa celebrations were considered by the country people to have no particular religious significance. Over the years they had gradually become an excuse for a festive outing to mark the start of the harvest.


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Lughnasa (Lammas) Lore

Assemblies on hilltops are a traditional part of the Lugnnasa proceedings

Copyright © 2003 by C C Brondwin