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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Celebrating Lughnasa, Together or Alone

  It is clear from my last blog that for a modern practitioner there is an abundance of material to work with in finding ways to celebrate Lughnasa. I’m going to offer several suggestions for practice that could be used for anyone with a Irish leaning, or who would like to celebrate this holy day in a Irish manner, but I leave the actual ritual up to the individual or group to design. Personally I follow a basic structure of blessing the space, invoking the ancestors, daoine sidhe, and Gods and offering to them, praying or saying something about the purpose of the ritual, making a main offering for the holiday, divination, thanking the Powers, and feasting. My own approach is Irish Reconstructionist in nature and that doubtless colors my view, but I would like to offer this to anyone of any faith who celebrates Lughnasa.
    One aspect that should be celebrated the same whether a person is solitary or in a group is food. Ideally if you grow your own fruit or grain, or have a milk cow, you could use the product of your own harvest, otherwise you should try to find high quality, local foods to use. Most Irish cookbooks should offer recipes for Barm Brac and you can substitute fresh fruits like raspberries and blackberries for the raisins and dried peel the recipe calls for. Although corn is often mentioned in relation to Lughnasa it is likely used to mean oats, and was replaced in time by potatoes as the main produce crop. It would be fine to use new world corn, especially if gluten sensitivity is an issue, if that is a local crop that is being harvested in your area at this time, or alternately to use wheat or oats to cook with. In the same way that there are many Barm Brac recipes to choose from there are innumerable porridge recipes to which fruit can be added, and fresh milk would also be appropriate. I would suggest leaving a portion of whatever is prepared out as an offering after the celebration, either to the daoine sidhe or the gods you decide to honor, or to both.
     If you are practicing with a group the group should choose a suitable place outdoors to meet, preferably either on a high place like a hilltop or mountain, or by the seashore or a river, or other place considered sacred by the group. Everyone should bring a small token dish to represent their contribution to the harvest, and if possible a fire should be kindled. The group should feel relaxed and social while setting up and getting comfortable stories should be told relating to Lughnasa; if possible music should be played or people can be encouraged to sing. It would also be alright to decorate a local stone, tree, or spring with flowers or other appropriate biodegradable decorations. At this point the group can celebrate the religious rite in whatever way they prefer, with the entire festivities dedicated to the god or gods of the rite. The food should be reheated using the fire and then shared and eaten by all, with some left as an offering as previously mentioned; this can be done during the group’s religious ritual or afterwards depending on the group. More stories can be told and music played while people socialize, and then the group should have whatever athletic games they are best able to hold. My own approach is geared towards groups with small children and involves things like foot races, contests of strength, solving puzzles, or games of skill, like tossing a bean bag through a ring with the winner receiving a special token or prize. Groups without children can of course choose to athletic games more appropriate for adults. After the athletic games if the fire has died down a bit it would also be traditional for people to jump the fire. The celebration should be planned to last for the entire day and the tone should be fun and lighthearted.
    In contrast a solitary practitioner may have to work a bit harder to include athletic aspects, or choose not to include them at all. I would suggest if you are alone that you choose a location to celebrate that will be physically challenging to get to, and include getting to and leaving the site as part of the athletic challenges of the day. You could hike to a high place or other sacred site and then, if it’s safe build a fire do so. Sitting alone you can recite stories, poetry, or sing while preparing the area; decorating a tree or other sacred object can be done alone. You can then celebrate your solitary rite as you choose, dedicating your efforts to the deity or deities you are honoring. In the same way when you bring out and eat the food you have brought be sure to leave some as an offering. You may choose to sit for a while in silence contemplating the beauty of your location or the meaning of the holy day, or you may find ways to challenge yourself (safely) to physical activities where you are. You can even jump the fire by yourself when it is low enough. Spend as much time as you would like at your ritual site, enjoying it, and then clean up and head home.
   There are many traditions associated with Lughnasa that emphasize both community and connecting to the divine. Some of these traditions pass beyond recorded history and into supposition and guesswork, but many are firmly based in folk practices that continued well into the last century. By learning about and understanding the old traditions of Lughnasa we can find new ways to incorporate them into modern pagan practices, and doing so will deepen our own spirituality.

1 comment:

  1. Very nice. Especially the part about the solitary incorporating the physical aspect by hiking to a remote place. I do just that. It is not miles of hiking, mind you, but there is quite a bit a climbing and jumping branches to reach the spot where I plan to eventually build my cottage. I take my little pack filled with necessities and, of course, my food and offerings. Nice article, Morgan!