Lughnasadh (pronounced [ˈlu.nə.sə]) is the celebration of the beginning of the harvest in Gaelic paganism and Wicca. It occurs on 1 August (2 August in Wicca), approximately halfway between the summer solstice and autumnal equinox. It is one of four seasonal celebrations in Gaelic pagan tradition (along with Samhain, Imbolc, and Beltane), and one of the eight major Wiccan festivals on the Wheel of the Year.
In later history, it has given rise to secular festivals celebrated in Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man, some of which include Christianised forms of the ancient pagan practice of making pilgrimages to hills and mountains. On Reek Sunday, a Christianised festival based on Lughnasadh, people make pilgrimages to the top of Croagh Patrick in Ireland.
Today, reconstructions of the festival are celebrated by Celtic neopagans and Wiccans as a religious holiday. It is also a cultural holiday to some people in the Gaelic lands.
According to Gaelic mythology, Lughnasadh was started by the god Lugh in honour of the death of his mother, Tailtiu, who died clearing Ireland for agricultural purposes. Lugh is said to have started it as the Óenach Tailten (modern Irish: Aonach Tailteann), or Tailteann Games.
The Óenach Tailten were held in Tailtin in Co. Meath, Ireland, and similar to the Ancient Greek Olympics in that they consisted of various sports and games, including horse racing. It is believed that Óenach Tailten predates the Greek Olympics by about a thousand years; some place its origin in 3370 BC.
Matchmaking was also a common practice at Óenach Tailten. Young couples held hands through a hole in a door as a religious ceremony united them. A year and a day later, this marriage could either be forgotten or continued officially.
Goods were traded on Lughnasadh. These included harvested grains such as corn, as well as livestock, like cattle. Since Lughnasadh celebrated the harvest, a big feast was conducted, which consisted of harvested crops and meats and milks from livestock. Crops were also offered as sacrifices atop hills and mountains; at the very top, they were buried. Here, the gods would accept them. Sacred bulls were also sacrificed. Bilberies were gathered on Lughnasadh; to this day, Gaelic harvest festivals taking place around 1 August include picking bilberries. Ancient customs dictated that, after picking bilberries from the sides of mountains, they were eaten on the spot or gathered for later use.
There was also a religious aspect to the Lughnasadh festival. People walked sunwise around wells praying for good health in return for offerings of coins or "clooties" (strips of fabric or cloths), hence "clootie wells". Religious stories were also retold through plays; in one such play, Lugh is shown confining a monster blight or famine. Very rarely, bonfires were lit in open-air celebrations. This may reflect Lugh's being called "the Bright One".
Lughnasadh is still celebrated by many people around the world, and many present-day festivals in Ireland or the Irish diaspora.
The Puck Fair is one of Ireland's oldest fairs. It is loosely based on Lughnasadh customs, and takes place around the same time (10 through 12 August) in Killorglin, Ireland. On the first day ("The Gathering Day", 10 August), a wild goat (in Irish, poc — the origin of the festival's name) is led to the festival from a mountain, and the "Queen of Puck" (a schoolgirl from one of the nearby primary schools) preforms a ceremony coronating him as "King Puck". Once King Puck is given his crown, the festivities may begin. King Puck then reigns over Killorglin for the next three days until the fair's end. After his coronation as King of Killorglin, the goat is paraded through the town, followed by his being elevated to a high stand. He comes down after the festival, and is led to his mountain.
Parades go through the town, and street vendors sell their goods out of stands. Street performers perform and people dress up. The first day also includes a horse fair, during which people sell and buy horses, ponies, and donkeys, as well as related equipment.
Christian pilgrimages to mountaintops also occur; the most famous is Reek Sunday (named after "the Reek", another name for Croagh Patrick in Ireland), the last Sunday in July. Many people-pilgrims, historians, tourists-make the pilgrimage to the chapel at the top of the mountain, where mass is conducted and confessions are heard. It is estimated that about 25 000 people participate in Reek Sunday each year. Croagh Patrick was regarded by the pagan Irish as the holiest mountain in Ireland; therefore, big harvest festivities were held there. It is still considered the holiest mountain in Ireland.
Today, Wiccans and Celtic Neopagans celebrate a reconstructed form of Lughnasadh (which is sometimes called Lammas by Wiccans). Neopagan Lughnasadh is very home-centred, and includes making arts and crafts, having large feasts that include grains, fruits, vegetables, and bread; telling stories; and many other traditions.