Sunday, August 1, 2010

Happy Lughnasadh!

Lughnasadh, pronounced "loo-nus-uh", is an ancient Celtic holiday celebrated on August 1.  Lughnasadh traditionally celebrated the beginning of the autumn harvest, the harvesting of grain and making of bread, and the ripening of the first fruits.  It starts the harvest season that ends at Samhain, on November 1.

Lughnasadh has an astronomical tie-in since it's a cross-quarter day, the approximate half-way point between the summer solstice (June 21) and the autumnal equinox (September 22).  Here's a table showing the length of the day (in hours and minutes) and direction of sunrise/sunset with respect to a due east-west meridian.  June 21, the summer solstice, is the longest day of the year and the time when the Sun rises in its most northerly position.  September 22, the autumnal equinox, is the time when day and night are approximately equal length at 12 hours each (equinox literally means "equal night") and the Sun rises almost due east-west.

Where did I get this data?  Because of the shape of the Earth's orbit, these numbers don't change at equal rates throughout the year.  Want to learn more, take my Ancient astronomy course!

Wiccans and other neopagans today, as in the past, celebrate the solstices, equinoxes, and cross-quarter days (sabbats) which are traditionally named Yule, Imbolc ("im-bulk"), Ostara, Beltane, Midsummer, Lugnasadh ("loo-nus-uh"), Mabon ("may-bon"), and Samhain ("sow-en" with sow rhyming with cow although there are variations in pronunciation). 

Neopagan Wheel of the Year

Why is Christmas in December?  It's not because there's any evidence that Jesus was born on December 25.  It was an attempt to supercede the ancient pagan celebrations of the winter solstice - a time the Sun is reborn and days start to grow longer again.  Notice the similarity between Ostara and Easter?  The name of the most holy day of the Christian calendar comes from the ancient dawn goddess.  It also falls around the vernal (spring) equinox.  The Medieval church changed Lugnasadh to Lammas or "loaf-mass day" where farmers brought a loaf to church from the first of their wheat crop.  Samhain became All Saints' Day in the Catholic church.  Imbolc was taken over by the church and called the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple or Candlemas. (today we just "celebrate" Groundhog Day - a practice rooted in Germanic paganism).

I have to confess an affinity for the pagan calendar since it makes such intuitive sense for those of us in the mid-latitudes since it's based on the cycle of the seasons - the astronomical variations in the length of the day and position of the sun.  It's a cycle that was observed by virtually all pre-Christian cultures around the world -- some of whom built megalithic (large stone) structures like Stonehenge to observe and celebrate them.


  1. Happy Lughnasadh! Just a quick word. I really enjoyed your post. Lughnasadh isn't entirely neopagan however, Druidry tradition also celebrates this cross-quarter day. While there are some neo-pagans within Druidry, Druidry can be as complex a paleolithic religion as someone wants, or as simple as walking in the woods and appreciating it. There are Christian Druids as well as Pagan Druids, and although some of the names of the celebrations change (Alban Heruin instead of Mabon for instance) the day of celebration and reason are very similar, only Druidism doesn't require any dogmatic believe in anything other than the natural world itself. Just wanted to clarify that, as I celebrate the 8 and I am not a neo-pagan.

  2. Sabbats holidays in a normal year these days.

    Ostara - March 23th
    Beltane - May 8th
    Litha - June 22th
    Lughnasadh - August 7th
    Mabon - September 21th
    Samhain - November 6th
    Yule - December 21th
    Imbolc - February 5th.

    Sabbats holidays in a leap year these days.

    Ostara - March 22th
    Beltane - May 7th
    Litha - June 21th
    Lughnasadh - August 6th
    Mabon - September 21th
    Samhain - November 6th
    Yule - December 21th
    Imbolc - February 5th.

    The beginning and middle seasons in 2013.

    Beginning of spring is March 20th 2013 at 11.02 UTC.
    Mid spring is May 5th 2013 at 8.19 UTC.
    Beginning of summer is June 21th 2013 at 5.04 UTC.
    Mid summer is August 7th 2013 at 8.21 UTC.
    Beginning of autumn is September 22th 2013 at 20.45 UTC.
    Mid autumn is November 7th 2013 at 6.14 UTC.
    Beginning of winter is December 21th 2013 at 17.11 UTC.
    Mid winter is February 3th 2014 at 22.04 UTC.