They’re here! The u-pick blueberry farms are now open for business up and down the highway. The tomatoes and blackberries are ripening – quite good this year – and the lavender has all been gathered from my kitchen garden. I added the dried flowers, along with some pecans, to my favorite scone recipe. I’d never eaten lavender before, and I must say it’s…fascinating. The best part of baking with lavender is the baking process – warm lavender wafting through the house is so restful. My favorite variety of scones to bake and eat, however, is still apricot and sage.
So, it’s official – the first crops are ready!
This time of year was known in Ireland as Lugnasad (pronounced LOO-nah-sah) and was one of the four fire festivals of the pre-Christian Gaels. Later, in the Christian calendar, it became Lammas, the early harvest festival celebrating the renewed food supply. The month of July was typically a lean and hungry time when the old food supply was depleted and the new crops had yet to mature. There was a lull in the agricultural season between the hay harvest in July and the grain harvest in September. Young people foraged for bilberries, whispering and giggling of the dancing and handfasting to come.
But it was more than a time for gathering the first fruits of harvest. Lugnasad, meaning “Lug’s Commemoration,” was created by the god Lug (or Lugh) to honor the memory of his foster-mother Tailtu (MacCana, 1983, p. 25). Races, ball games, and contests of skill were eagerly attended at tribal gathering known as óenach (we’ll take a closer look at the óenach next week). One intriguing event was horse-swimming. Not too long ago, it was remembered in County Mayo that “the people…swim their horses in the lake…to defend them against incidental evils during the year, and throw spancels and halters into it, which they leave there on the occasion. They are also accustomed to throw butter into it, with the intention that their cows may be sufficiently productive of milk and butter during the year. (MacNeill, 1962, p. 252).
These tribal assemblies might have resembled our modern-day county fairs, where goods and news were exchanged, tribal and inter-tribal business was conducted, and marriages were arranged. These handfastings or “marriages contracted at this time could be annulled at the same time the following year, offering the couple a sensible ‘trial period.’” (Carr-Gomm, 1991, p.73). Watch this space for upcoming articles on sex and marriage in ancient Ireland!
It is also at this time of year that the sun begins to wane, and so great bonfires were lit to increase or maintain its potency (remember – the majority of the harvest isn’t in yet). Having the sun head south too soon is a scary thought. Or is it? I don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward to cooler temperatures, dead mosquitoes, and long stretches of beaches all to myself.
Carr-Gomm, P. (1991) The elements of the druid tradition. Longmead, England: Element Books.
MacCana, P. (1983). Celtic mythology. New York: Peter Bedrick Books.
MacNeill, M. (1962). The festival of Lughnasa: a study of the survival of the Celtic festival of the beginning of harvest. London: Oxford University Press.