Song for Lughnasadh
[He:] O beauty's blossom, most cruel maid,
A grievous foe have you been to me:
My heart you took and my trust betrayed
And smiled as I sank in the dark sea.
But why, why did you turn away
And why so faithless when I was true?
O, summer love has its shining day,
But winter love watches the night through!
[She:] 'Twas you, O golden my lord, confessed
To my loving ear your immortal race,
And if I tricked you I did but jest
Yet perish now lacking your kind grace.
O, blame be to the wind that drives
My fainting steps where the first leaves fly!
For winter love with the pine-tree thrives
But summer love will with its bloom die.
[He:] My sweet and fairest one, live to seal
Our bond of love in my light anew!
O turn to me as the heavens wheel,
For I am returned to seek you:
So turn again to me now at last
And we shall fear for no wind that blows:
For winter love through the storm holds fast,
And summer love laughs with the red rose!
[Both:] The year declines from its summer height
In burning glory of autumn gold,
Yet pales already the early light
And stubble stands in the mists cold:
But leads winter to spring's new birth
While love and wonder their treasures pour,
Still bringing down to this mortal earth
The beams of a deathless splendour.
- Vivian Godfrey
I fondly remember as a child magical and seemingly endless summer holidays through the months of July and August. Irish troubadour Van Morrison nicely captures many of the related sentiments of endless summers in two of his wonderful songs, “On Hyndford Street” and “These are the days.”
Now each summer we always spent a fortnight to a month out of the city, up on the Antrim coast, where some of our extended family lived. Inevitably this took us on tours of the Giant’s Causeway, Dunluce Castle and “the auld Lammas fair” in Ballycastle. All generations to this day are still able to sing along to the old song about the fair of the same name.
The fair was a wondrous experience as a child – fun fair games, livestock, people watching, dulse, and Yellow Man to eat and rot your teeth. Typically happening on the last Monday and Tuesday in August, it remains one of the oldest fairs in Ireland, held continuously for at least three centuries.
Lammas is the name given to the August festival on the Wheel of the Year. The word may derive from the Celtic name Lughnasadh, which meant “the commemoration of Luqh”. Lugh is of course the name for the Irish sun god, known variously as Lugh of the Long Arm, the Shining One, the Fierce Striker and the Lightning Flash. Another explanation on the etymology is that the word is obtained from the Anglo-Saxon “hlaf-mass” or “loaf-mass”, for this festival marks the beginning of the grain harvest.
At this point on the Wheel of the Year it is plain for most of us in the Northern Hemisphere to see that the Sun god is indeed losing the battle; the days are beginning to get shorter and the light receding. Lugh uses his remaining power to ripen the golden wheat before the long and barren winter months. This was often seen by many as Lugh’s sacrifice to humanity who in turn “served” him.
At this time in Celtic lands, corn dollies are still traditionally made. These are rough female figures made from sheaves of wheat. These represent the Goddess, the Earth Mother, keeping the seed safe until the Spring. Families keep a corn dolly in the house, near the hearth, throughout the winter. When the spring finally comes, the grain incorporated in this figure can be mixed with the other seed just before it is sown in the fields, to symbolically increase fertility.
Again, emphasizing the perennial nature of many of the old ways, in parts of modern day Ireland, environmental education officers are paid to teach school children how to make corn dollies. One of my old friends who is employed in such as role says that the children are clearly fascinated by their experience, no doubt finding themselves connected to something of a deeper and more enduring nature than much of the rest of their modern-day childhood.
At a time of global troubles, ecological disaster and strife, it is one of my deepest wishes that more of these old ways continue to find their ways back into schools, families and wider community life. The world would be a far better place for it. Our personal and global harvests would be healthier for it!
This August we were truly honoured to be invited by OBOD’s Cornovii Grove to participate in a beautiful Lughnasadh ceremony on the edge the Wyre Forest. The ceremony’s purpose was to celebrate Lughnasadh and bless a friend’s apple orchard. What an event it was too. The ceremony was beautifully crafted with richly poetic and symbolic language which really resonated with both my Aurum Solis and Dion Fortune initiatic heritage. Perhaps most interesting was the wide attendance -- families with their children, neighbours, druids, wiccans, rune devotees, qabalists and ceremonial magicians – all coming together in harmony to honour the spirit of life which is Lughnasadh and the start of the harvest season.
We need more common ground like this if we are to make the world a better place.