August 1st (halfway between summer solstice and autumn equinox) marks an ancient festival practiced by the Gaels of the first harvest, the first fruits of their growing season. As such, it was a sacred time.
There are several names and variations of those names for this festival. Lúnasa, Lughnasadh, Lughnasa, Lammas, etc. All except the latter represent a festival to honor the Irish god Lugh. Lammas was the Anglo-Saxon word for loaf-mass, or the festival of the wheat harvest.
According to myth, Lugh was raised by his step-mother, Tailtiu. Tailtiu may have been an earth goddess, and when she died, Lugh instituted the funeral games in her honor. These were much like the ancient Olympics. Tailteann games were held in several places, including at Emain Macha, Carman, and Tailtin. Modern recreations of these festivals are now in Gweedore, Sligo, Brandon, Rathangan and Craggaunowen, as well as oter places.
The festival would have religious rituals, games of athletic and artisan competitions, matchmaking and trading. It’s possible today’s remnant of a matchmaking ceremony in Lisdoonvarna stems from this tradition.
The tradition of climbing hills and mountains has been Christianized in Ireland to Reek Sunday, a time of pilgrimage to the top of Croagh Patrick, traditionally done barefoot on the last Sunday in July.
Festivals such as the Puck Fair have it’s roots in Lughnasadh, and modern pagan revivalists have brought the observation back into popular use.
The first cutting of the corn is a ritual during Lughnasadh, just as the last cutting of corn is a ritual at Samhain. These honored cuttings were offered to the gods. Bilberries also feature heavily in the traditional offers and festival foods, and bonfires are lit.
A common prayer during rituals is to ask for a gentle rain to help the crops.
So join me in a prayer to the gods for a bountiful harvest and a gentle rain (especially in southern California). It is raining as I type this, so perhaps our prayers are already answered!