Lughnasadh

Lughnasadh was on Tuesday this week, a festival I realise I tend to be slightly ambivalent about compared to the other fire festivals of the year. A fairly important family anniversary the day after Lughnasadh may have something to do with that, as well as the fact it normally features the grain harvest as its central message (thanks to its connection and confusion with Lammas, the Christian Loaf Mass) and I am allergic to wheat! However, this year Lughnasadh marked some major unexpected events for me that make me really look forward to the next year (more of which to follow) – so I was feeling puzzled as to why seeds are being madly sown in my life while the rest of the world is apparently at harvest, and wanted to explore some of the meanings of the festival a little deeper.

Lughnasadh, also spelt Lughnasa, Lughnasad, Lunasa etc, is an old Irish festival, named for the Celtic sun-God Lugh, and Nasadh meaning an assembly. It didn’t actually celebrate the harvest, which is frequently a little later in August; however, Lughnasadh was started as a result of the start of growing and harvesting crops. Besides, if the assembly was held at harvest time most able-bodied people would have been too busy to compete in any games!

When the Tuatha de Danaan invaded Ireland, the High King of the Fir Bolg, Eochaidh mac Eirc was killed in battle. His wife, Tailtiu, was then given a high-born son of the Danaan to raise as her own, as a mark of trust. Fostering children was a common way of creating peace between kingdoms, in the same way as marriage was used. The son she was entrusted with was Lugh.

Clearly as a way of inspiring loyalty, this was an inspired choice. Lugh flourished and developed incredible skills and talents, winning the titles Lamfhada, ‘of the long arm’ for his prowess with spear casting, and Samildanach, ‘master of all arts’. He went on to become High King, and was a Druid and a Warrior.

He remained very close to his foster mother, despite leaving to seek his fortune, and was devastated when Tailtiu died of exhaustion on 1st August after clearing a great forest on the plains of Brega in readiness for farming. (The Bronze Age had arrived in Ireland.) When the men gathered at her death-bed, she told them to hold funeral games and celebrations in her honour. As long as they were held, she prophesied Ireland would not be without song. This is of course what Lugh did.

The first games were held at the town now known as Teltown in County Meath, where they continued to be held until the Norman invasion – and informally in rural areas until the eighteenth century. They were known to include sporting contests in hurling, spear throwing, sword fighting, handball, running, wrestling, boxing, horse and chariot racing, staged battles and displays of Irish martial arts, as well as music, poetry, story-telling, singing and dancing, and competitions amongst craftsmen, such as goldsmiths, jewellers, spinners, weavers, and the forging of weaponry and armour. It was also the time that laws were made and announced to the people by bards, and contracts, politics and alliances were agreed between families. Even weddings or handfastings took place by linking hands through a hole in a stone, which could be dissolved the next year by walking away from each other if it didn’t work out. August remains one of the most popular times of year for weddings. Violence was not tolerated for the period of the festival, all those who came had to agree to a truce.

So it was Tailtiu who made the sacrifice so that man could plant corn, offering herself as the divine feminine. She was not afraid to work hard, and was an excellent mother in all senses of the word. Her festival reminds us to look at all our talents, use them, and as well as reaping our harvest, see what we can give back to others, and to the Earth. In that sense I now understand where my new seeds have come from, and what responsibility I have to nurture them and help them grow.

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Walking Barefoot and Remembering

I wrote a little over a year ago about my rediscovery of going barefoot, and how I discovered it helps to keep me connected and open to Mother Earth. Life flows when I am in touch with the Earth, and stops when I cut myself off.

A year on, and I am still suffering from the practical point of how to keep my feet warm enough. Wearing socks around the house seems to be a good compromise for me, but except on rare occasions I have been unable to go barefoot outside. Until last week.

The sandy beaches of Northumberland called to me, and I took my shoes off. A wonderful feeling. I stood in the sea, letting the waves run around my ankles, and had a huge feeling of knowing I had been there before. In that place on Bamburgh beach, hundreds of years ago. I looked out and knew the place, knew it was right that I had returned. Thanks to the protection of the Farne Islands, and Lindisfarne in particular, it had changed less with the passing of time than many other beaches to the South, although I think the castle and certainly the lighthouse had been built since. I knew then, if I hadn’t fully known it before, that it is time for me to start remembering who I was in previous lives so that I truly know who I am now and what I am here to do.

There have been a number of aspects to this remembering and reconnecting, but this was the first that really spoke to me so I’m writing about it first. More may follow as it feels appropriate. Ultimately my aim in remembering past lives is to know the lessons I wished to learn from them, so that I may fulfil my purpose in this life. I have long felt that this life will be my last. As part of this, I have found it interesting to realise how my remembering that area of Northumberland makes sense for several of my interests – a fascination with eighth and ninth century English history, a draw towards Celtic parts of Britain and their later history and myths, and particularly Celtic writing and knot work such as forms my Sorrel leaf image. I have also had a huge amount of discomfort towards Viking and Anglo Saxon history of the same period…

Bamburgh beach felt like somewhere I had been pleased to reach, having lived elsewhere and travelled East to greet the sea. A pilgrimage possibly, for which reaching the beach was an achievement but not the end of the journey. It reminded me of my own wish to walk the ‘Wainwrights’ in Cumbria.

Later in the week I was barefoot on another beach less than five miles away, and was amazed I had none of the same feelings of recognition. Lovely beach, almost identical sand and waves, but not remotely familiar to me.

My other discovery however was finding that I could carry M for miles in the carrier, barefoot along the beach or in the sea, with far more ease than I normally carried her with my shoes on. We were part of the same Earth that I was connecting with, who supported us fully and completely. She was part of me, and we were both part of the Earth.