This is the season of Lughnasadh, the feast of Lugh of the Long Hand, whose solar fire ripens the harvest. Heat hangs in the air by day, but the nights are growing longer, and the stars are bright. In Ireland, a month of athletic games honored Lugh's foster-mother, Tailtiu. In the night skies of this season, the Perseid meteor showers dance in the dark. They are still known in Ireland as the Games of Lugh. This is Lammas, the Loaf Mass, when bread is baked from the first harvest, and John Barleycorn goes into barrels for the winter.
This is the time of the gathering of the folk. In the Moon of Lughnasadh, clans come together from all the duns, driving their herds before them. They play and test their skill at games. The druids settle disputes and re-establish boundaries. On the mountain sides, the young women and men pick berries and make love. Sometimes, especially if there is a Beltane baby on the way, a handfasting is celebrated. They build bonfires on the hilltops and drive the cattle between them. There is dancing by torchlight and by firelight. Sometimes a cartwheel is set alight and rolled blazing down a hillside. An Irish faery tale calls this season "little lunacy week in August."
This is the long-awaited harvest. In Scotland, the youngest child in the family cuts the last sheaf and weaves a corn dolly or corn hag from it. The first family to finish its harvest makes the corn dolly and passes it on to others as they finish. It ends in the keeping of the last family to finish harvesting. On Brighid's Day, the corn dolly and a loaf of bread or a jug of whisky are put to bed in a basket and carried through all the houses to hurry the spring sowing.
In Britain, July is the season of haymaking, and August is the corn or barley harvest. Lughnasadh is the time to sacrifice the grain. In 1100 C.E. on the Morrow of Lammas, August 2, King William Rufus of England was shot through the eye with an arrow while hunting in the New Forest. The body of the red-haired king was carried through the countryside, and the folk came out to mourn him as John Barleycorn. The New Forest is still sacred ground to English witches and gypsies.
In mid-August, Odin found the wisdom of the Runes. He hung on the world ash tree, Yggdrasil, for nine days and nine nights, a sacrifice of himself to himself.
The Puck Fair is held in England at Lughnasadh by the old Julian calendar. In Scotland, the Lammas fair is called Great Saint Mary's Feast in Harvest. In Hungary, it is the feast of the Big Glad Woman.
These are the Dog Days, the Month for Hanging Dogs, the rising of Sirius the Dog Star, known in the North as Loki's Brand. Elen Llydaw, Welsh Goddess of the star roads, draws her maps in the sky. The Star Goddess Anahita and her attendants, the Parikas or shooting stars, dance by night in Persia. In Egypt, the rising of Sirius marked the beginning of the Nile floods and the end of the year. The Sky Goddess Nut gave birth to her five children, Set, Osiris, Isis, Nephthys, and Hathor between the old year and the new. By torchlight, Isis searched for the slain Osiris, gathered the pieces of his body, and breathed life into him again.
In Macedonia, the first three days of August celebrated the Dryads, spirits of the trees. In Rome, the Heracleia honored Heracles with games and invoked the spirit of the hero into the hearts of those who needed strength and courage.
In Brittany, Lammas is the time of the benediction of the sea. Ahes, the Mermaid Goddess of the drowned city of Ys, gives her people bounty from the ocean. In the West Indies, the hurricane Gods walk on land from Lammas until Samhain. The last Monday in July is Hurricane Supplication Day.
Lughnasadh falls at moon-dark this year. Bendis of Thrace, the Goddess who first taught witches to draw down the moon, held torchlight races, parades, and initiations at the dark of the August moon. Hekate, the dark moon, was celebrated with offerings of eggs, fish, onions, and garlic left at the crossroads. At the new moon in Greece, Artemis of Brauron held her festival. Little girls dressed in bear costumes danced in her honor. Artemis was celebrated as Ursa Major, the she-bear. Artio, the Celtic Bear Goddess, was honored at Lughnasadh.
This is Luna Mass, the celebration of the Lady of the Moon. The August full moon marks the height of summer, the return of brightness before autumn. In Wales, the full moon is Arianrhod, "silver wheel." In Scotland, she is Gealach, the "bright white moon of the seasons." The Moon Goddess Diana's day in Rome was the Ides of August, the thirteenth. In the lunar calendar, this was the eve of the full moon. Her priestesses danced in sacred groves by torchlight. In Greece, Artemis was celebrated at the full moon as Calliste, the beautiful one. Ishtar was worshipped in her lion aspect at the full moon in Sumer. Pacha Mama prepares the ground for the early sowing at the full moon in Peru. The Creek and Cherokee Corn Mothers are the sister Goddesses Elihino of the Earth and Igaehindvo of the Sun. The Green Corn Dances celebrate the grain they provide for their people.
This is the time of the Mothers, the Matronae, the Three Women. Carved in stone, they hold bounty on their laps: a basket of fruits and flowers, an infant, a foal. They are the Triple Danu, Goddess of the land; the Triple Brighid, Goddess of poetry, crafts, and healing; and Modron and Morgan and Morrigan, the ancient Triple Mother. They are Habondia and Cornucopia. They bring sleep and fertility and bounty. They are the Corn Hag and the Corn Maiden, the last of the harvest and the first of the seed. They are the little wisdoms that carry us through the winter. They are the first green shoots in the spring. They are the earth covered by snow. They gift all their children with secrets and seeds and dreams.
This is the season of John Barleycorn. He stands in the fields until his beard sprouts in the rains of Midsummer. Then he is cut down, rolled around the field, beaten, and tied. He is baked into bread and brewed into ale and distilled into whisky. A Scottish song tells of John Barleycorn meeting Brighid, who is searching for him in a snowstorm. He gives her a bannock and a drink of whisky: "She ate, she drank, she laughed, she danced, and home with me she did return. By candle light in my old straw bed, she wept no more for Barleycorn."* He is Crom Cruaich, the ancient God of standing stones and the harvest sacrifice. He wins every drinking contest. He leads us by winter roads to the return of spring.
* From "An Orkney Tapestry" by George Mackay Brown.
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