Lughnasadh (1st August)
At the Beltane and Midsummer rites the Fate goddess, as the spring maiden and Sovereignty, captured the heart of the God, married him in the greenwood, and made him king to rule over the land with wisdom and justice. The final drama in this light half of the year is enacted at this Celtic festival of Lughnasadh or in it's Anglo-Saxon form Lammas.
In folk tradition Lammas Eve was when a huge cart wheel was heated till it was red hot. It was then rolled down a hillside and it's smooth passage, or not, was an omen for the harvest. While the midsummer fire wheel symbolised the motion of the sun in the sky, the fiery wheel of Lughnasadh was the sun descending from the height of the sky into the underworld.
The purpose of the Lammas rites was to prepare for the harvest and perform rituals of sympathetic magick to promote a good crop and fine weather to gather it in. Three generations ago the witches of Buckinghamshire went out into the fields before the harvest was finished and sat astride a stang or horse headed stave. They then 'rode' on their magickal steeds 'though thick (the uncut sheaves) and thin (the stubble)'. The purpose of this was that the steps of the 'ride' were danced into the land in order to dispel and appease the old, the powers of decay, and thereby usher in the new, the powers of increase.
Recent scientific research has shown that dancing, music and sexual activity in the vicinity of plants can induce extra growth. So there may be logic behind the Morris dancing 'to awaken the Earth', the skipping and hobby horse dances of folk culture, the riding of broomsticks in the fields and the sexual rites of spring to stimulate nature and new life.
In the Christian Church of the Anglo-Saxon times, the Celtic Lughnasadh, was Lammas or a mass to celebrate the first fruits of the harvest. The first corn was brought into the church to be blessed by the priest. This was a sanitised version of more ancient blood sacrifices for both 'the killing of the God and the sacred meal, which gave natural and supernatural strength from the partaking of his blood and body, were ritual acts with a mystical significance'.
The theological theory behind blood sacrifice, and especially human sacrifice, was that blood was thought to contain the essence of the life force, and by the outpouring of the divine victim's life essence, preferably directly onto the soil, the union of heaven and earth was perpetuated and the vital energies were renewed throughout the land. The blood sacrifice of animals and humans was seen as an act of life, not death, especially in the case of a human victim, whose soul was believed to go straight to heaven or to the realm of the Gods. In some cultures to be selected as the victim for sacrifice was regarded as a great honour because it bestowed divinity.
Today, thankfully we have evolved beyond the crude practice of offering the life force of any living thing, human or animal, to the Gods. Now we are as likely to light a candle or incense, pour a libation, or offer something more personal to the Powers. The real sacrifice is ourselves on the Path and to the Gods and that is a daily one throughout the Wheel of the Year.
© Traditional Witch 2006