One of the eight Wiccan Sabbats, Lughnasadh takes place on August first (in the Northern Hemisphere). Also known as Lammas, Lughnasadh is the first harvest ritual of the year. It takes place when the first grains are ready to be harvested. Named after Lugh, a Celtic Solar deity, Lughnasadh is symbolical of the death of the sacred king and grain gods.
The Sabbat of First Fruits is echoed in the traditions of many cultures, from those of the Ancient Egyptians to the Ancient Roman festivals, European traditions and even across the sea in the rituals of Native Americans. These ceremonies revolve around giving thanks for the harvest and partaking of its fruits. Feasting is common during Lughnasadh, and the two harvest Sabbats that occur later in the year. Food is made from the grain and fruit of this early harvest and consumed by the celebrants. Foods appropriate for this celebration are apples, wheat, corn and barley. Bread is especially popular for this festival, hence Lughnasadh’s alternate name of Lammas “loaf mass.”
Lughnasadh is a time of celebration; the participants enjoying simple entertainments inspired by agricultural communities. The entertainment can include making corn dolls, dancing, games, the occasional marriage, and acting out of symbolic stories related to the Sabbat. A lot of modern-day Wiccans favor the drama of ritual; these ritual dramas relating to the death of the sacred king. This king represents the grain, and the renewing of the fertility of the land. The king must die (be harvested) for the continued survival of the people. He also must die to provide the seeds necessary to plant another crop. It is only though the harvesting (death) that life can continue.
In Golden Dawn, an esoteric Order formed in 1888, this mystery that life comes from death is communicated by the signs of the Adept Minor Grade. “[Cross]: the sign of Osiris slain. L: the sign of the mourning of Isis. V: the sign of Typhon and Apophis. X: the sign of Osiris risen. Virgo, Isis, the Mighty Mother. Scorpio, Apophis, the Destroyer. Sol, Osiris, Slain and Risen.” Golden Dawn relates this mystery to the symbolism of several of the great religions and philosophies of the past.
Modern day Wicca, which incorporated a lot of lore from Golden Dawn and other esoteric Orders during the early days of its revival, does not restrict the knowledge of this secret to any particular degree. Lughnasadh is an annual reminder of the importance that agriculture had to our ancestors. In many Wiccan rituals, Lughnasadh is the time to remember the sacrifices that we have to make for our continued survival.
The sacrifices that we make are not flesh and blood, but they are not completely symbolic either. They take the form of opportunity cost (other things you could have done), time and energy. While most modern day Wiccans have moved to urban environments, we are still engaged in the planting of future harvests as we work and invest. Lughnasadh is the time for us to take stock of what we are currently receiving for our efforts, and to remind us that we must set resources aside for investing in our future.