Lughnasadh, the Harvest Festival, is part of an Introductory Course in Wicca for incarcerated Wiccans, their families and friends, and prison Chaplains. It has been written to provide a greater understanding of Wicca as a spiritual practice and religion for those who seek to understand it, either as an incarcerated Wiccan or as someone who cares about incarcerated Wiccans.
Lughnasadh is another cross-quarter day that falls between the Summer Solstice and the Autumn Equinox. Also called Lammas, Lad Day, First Harvest, Elembius, and Ceresalia, it is celebrated on August 1st or 2nd.
As one might expect, it is associated with the god Lugh, and all grains that are harvested early, especially rye. Its alternate name, Lammas, is said to come from the Anglo-Saxon word Hlaef-mass, which means “loaf mass.” The god Lugh is an Irish Sun god, and this harvest festival marks the gathering in of the grains that have ripened by his (the Sun’ s) rays.
The growth of the cereal/grain crops has long represented the cycle of life: the growth, fall and rebirth of the grain, reflected the human cycle of birth, death and continuation. This is the time of John Barleycorn, the caring father aspect of the god who was wedded to the pregnant Goddess in May, and is now cut down as the harvest, to feed the people.
Some Wiccans see the harvest as a gift from the Mother Goddess, who shares her body to nourish her children. The time of plenty is also the time of cutting down and sacrifice.
At Lammas, the time of gathering in the blessings we reap from the planting, we are reminded also of the importance of its distribution. Consequently, some Witches combine their enjoyment of feasting and celebrating this time of plenty with a commitment of giving back either through money or charitable as political work, to ensure a fair harvest for all.
Interlude: the Story of Our Mother Goddess
“Bending, she scooped up some soil, clenched it before my face, then opened her hand. The form of her palm and fingers remained pressed into the moist loam. This is Her. Look at Her. She took my hand and laid the clod in it. Feel Her. Smell Her, She is the beginning and the end. Who can deny Her? You have questions? Ask them. Listen to Her. She will tell you.
She is all of woman, and more. She bears as a woman bears. She gives and sustains as a woman does, but a woman dies, being mortal. But She is not. She is ever fruitful. She is the Mother.
Lay seed in Her. She will bear. She will nourish, and sustain, and in the sustaining, will give forth and provide. And that seed you give Her will make another seed, and that, another, and another, again and again, forever the Eternal Return.
Slowly, her arms rose and straightened, her fists opened, spread broad, an impressive gesture of benevolence, a priestess acknowledging the deity.
Let us pay Her tribute. Let us beg for Her strength and protection. Let us pray that She may bring forth Her strong plants, Her rich food, Her very life. How selfish we are. We give Her but a seed, a kernel, a dead thing. Yet see what She returns to us. Such beauty, such riches, such life! What mortal is there who cannot help but wonder at Her, love Her, fear Her?
The Lord preserves the Lady, our fruitful Mother. And She will give, and give, and give, until there is no more to be given.
She took the dirt clod from me, pressed it, and let it crumble and sift between her fingers, the particles falling into the furrow.
And in the end, She will take it all back. There’s the irony. For as a man dies, so does a woman. It is the Mother who must succeed in the end, since everything must return to Her. It is the tribute we must pay for Her patronage. “- from the book Harvest Home, by Thomas Tryon