The sun is shining and, like Balor from the myths, threatens to kill anything that lingers in its rays too long. Many in the US have been experiencing drought. In Upstate NY, those of us who understand and value food worry about the relative lack of rain. Thankfully there has been some this weekend, but we could always use more. Here’s hoping Lugh throws his spear into the clouds and brings us some rain for the crops!
Speaking of Crops and Lughnasadh, I’ve been researching harvest customs. I joined my friends at Muin Mound Grove yesterday to celebrate the holiday with our traditional games. The mythological reason for this that Tailtiu, Lugh’s Fomorian-born foster mother, died clearing the forests in Co. Meath Ireland for farmland. Lugh promised to dedicate funeral games to her each August (Freeman, 236) and, in exchange for this observance, there would be prosperity (237). The games and the gathering of the tribes are what I usually think of when celebrating Lughnasadh. We honor Lugh, the triumphant hero who defeated Balor and learned the secrets of the wild to ensure harvest. We must also remember his foster mother, Tailtiu, an Earth Goddess who gave herself and her secrets for the benefit of others.
It is also a time to remember a lesser known deity, Crom Dubh. There is little known of him, and he’s occasionally equated with the harsh and possibly demonized Crom Cruach, a God associated with human sacrifice. Crom Dubh is said to mean “dark bent-one” (Freeman, 247). He’s believed to have brought the first supply of wheat to Ireland in a sack on his back, and that he brought all knowledge associated with it (248). Indeed, there is a lot of emphasis placed on wheat. It’s used in food, brewing, thatching, and weaving (baskets, hats, etc). Around Lughnasadh, men and women wove “harvest knots,” tokens of affection, for each other out of wheat (245).
Máire MacNeill first wrote about the customs of Lughnasadh and believed it to be a pan-Celtic holiday (Hutton, 327). Professor Ronald Hutton, known for his careful examination of folk customs in Britain, questions MacNeill’s research and wonders just how widespread Lughnasadh was (328). Despite his hesitation, it cannot be denied that the harvest played a significant role in early August celebrations. The Old English word for this celebration is Lammas, and, funnily enough, many Wiccans have taken this name for their high day. The original Lammas tradition involved bringing the first loaf made from the first ripe grain to church for blessings (Freeman, 233). Similarly Christianized, the highland Scots used the first corn to make bannocks in early August to celebrate the assumption of the Virgin Mary into Heaven (Hutton, 329). Indeed, there are many other rituals in Britain that involve the first grain harvested, some involving talismans and dolls (Hutton, 332-347).
Whether it is Lugh, Tailtiu, Crom Dubh, or some other harvest/fertility deity you honor, there is probably food and bread involved. Knowing this, I decided to bring some of that energy into my own home. This past Imbolc, I collected some seeds from the dried wheat we used to make Brighid crosses. I planted these seeds in the spring and, to my excitement, they grew! Now, I didn’t grow very much. In fact, some of the wheat did not make it. I allowed the wheat that did grow to dry (not difficult to do given the amount of sun and rain we’ve had…).
I brought this wheat in and removed the seeds from the chaff.
This is a lengthy process by hand. I saved some of the seeds for the garden next year and put the rest into my mortar. I crushed the seeds with my pestle and was delighted to watch them transform into white dust. It took a long time to do this. My arm ached from the process and, in the end, I only made about a tablespoon of flour.
It’s amazing to think of my ancient ancestors making enough flour to bake whole loaves of bread. If I ever have enough land to grow a small field of cereal grains, I definitely want to invest in a mill. In the meantime, I’m lucky enough to have a local mill and wheat farmer.
I added my small offering of home-made wheat to that from North Country Farms and went about making some bread for Lughnasadh. Ah… kitchen magic. 🙂
Freeman, Mara. Kindling the Celtic Spirit. Harper Collins, NY. 2001.
Hutton, Ronald. The Stations of the Sun. Oxford. 1996.