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The Living Lughnasadh

Posted by Erin nighean Brghde on August 3, 2015 at 7:15 PM

It is fashionable today in many pagan circles to treat Lughnasadh's Harvest theme as a metaphor, or an abstracrtion removed from its literal meaning.  This is often claimed as an updated way to engage with the holiday, more apt for urban dwellers of the 21st century than rural dwellers of the ancient past, or even the recent past of the past couple centuries.  I understand the inclination, especially with the popularity of Jungian archetypes in pagan religions, as it lends itself to this sort of reductionist abstraction, but to do misses vital realities we *all* live with, here and now, and opportunites for growing in right relationship.


This is the key thing to know about the Harvest celebration of Lughnasadh: it isn't for farmers, it is for eaters.  If you eat, and are of European heritage living anywhere in a temperate climate, this holiday is vitally relevant to your life here and now, wherever you live, as much as it was to our deep ancestors of ancient times, and those right on up through the centuries.


Staple grains have been the bedrock of civilization for thousands of years.  Ensuring a reliable source of food is what allows civilizations to develop and cultures to flourish.  Food security is what has allowed all of the gifts of Gaelic culture to come into fruition.  Modern civilization today is also supported by grain crops, so this continuity is very much a part of our ongoing lives.


Grains are living beings, which must be killed to ensure our survival.  They are great beings who give their lives for ours, and upon whom whole cultures can depend for longevity and cultural development.   Grains are truly gods, giving goodness to us freely, and mighty warriors who stand between us and death, protecting and safeguarding us.  This is no minor thing.  It is no metaphor or abstraction.  This is the foundation of our lives, phsically and culturally, and what will sustain our future generations.  The Corn King deserves our recognition, honor, and gratitude, and teaches us to give goodness freely as He does, to take care of others.  It is important to respect His presence and sacrifice, and the Harvest ceremonies and celebrations of Lughnsasadh give us exactly this moment and opportunity.  The Harvest is the culmination of the land's work for the year, its great gift to Her people.  Honor and graititude are how we align ourselves in right relationship with the Land Goddess, the Corn King, and their gift of the Harvest.


Lugh is the god of Lughnsasadh because he embodies what is possible when food sources are secured in abundance-- the flowering of all the arts and sciences which allow civilization to flourish and grow.  The Lughnasadh celebrations then included demonstrations of arts and skills, and regular revisitiations and revisings of the codified laws and customs of the people.  Lugh was known in the Irish lore to have many wives in different places, signifying in the various locales the marriage of the local land goddess to the god of civilization, to bless the tribes.


At the end of the tale of the Cath Mag Tuired, the Second Battle of Moy Turra, the Fomorrian King Bres is allowed to live after being captured when he gives the Tuatha Dé the secrets of agriculture.  In more recent lore, we see how the Harvest is welcomed with prayers of thanks, and offerings and libations, often from the first grains gathered and baked.  Such offerings hark back to the tale of the Battle of Tailtean, when the Tuatha Dé Danann retreated underground to the mounds, and then promptly withered both the grain in the fields and the milk in the cows' udders.  When the Milesians went to them asking for their food back, they were told they may have them so long as they remembered to honor the Tuatha Dé with regular gifts of 'icht agus blicht,' grain and milk, returning in thanks and honor part of the very foods which sustained them in their agrarian and pastoral lifestyle, which also formed the foundation of the Pact between the humans and the gods, to be maintained through all time.


Traditionally the season of Harvest, Foghar, is considered the end of summer's season of grain growth, and the beginning of autumn, which is not meant to mark the onset of cold weather and impending leaf drop, but instead meant to mark the height of the grain-ripening heat, for the impending grain-fall by scythe (or, combine, these days).   Though the date has been codified as a single universal date (within Ireland), the spirit of honoring the harvest can be done anytime any local, sustaining grain crop is ripe and ready, which will naturally vary from region to region, and should.  Despite our tendency to view seasons as universal, like 'the first day of summer' everywhere in the world, seasons are really local, and variable from place to place.  We can bring that awareness and understanding to our rites today.


While the Harvest season can be viewed as another kind of harvest in our lives, a reaping of many blessings, this would be better observed   as an *adjunt to* the honoring of the Corn King's sacrifice, service, and gift of himself to us, as he stands between us and death and allows our culture to develop, rather than imposing it over this, and sweeping the very real Harvest and its implications aside.  This is the beauty of polyvalent thinking, which includes in a 'both-and' construct, rather than eliminating in an 'either-or' construct, and allows us to engage with tradition in multiple ways, on several levels at once. 


The people didn't honor the harvest specifically because they were farmers or rural folk.  They did it because they are eaters, and the Corn King provided sustenance for both physical and cultural longevity.  This respect and celebration belongs every bit as much to urbanites as to ruralites, and far from being anachronistic, continues to support us and our present culture in the very same ways today.  Lughnasadh is not a relic from some distant place and time, it is an ancestral teaching and lesson speaking to our very real here and now.   All hail the Corn King!



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