In a typical year, at Lughnasadh, my grove would be gathering for our favorite celebration of the year. This is typically a weekend of rituals, feasting, fire, and merriment, all hosted here at our homestead in Western PA. With the pandemic raging around us, this kind of gathering cannot happen at present. As much as I enjoy our yearly Lughnasadh gathering, I’m taking time this year to focus on my solitary practice and enjoy Lughnasadh in a different way. Looking at the history and lore of Lughnasadh offers some wonderful solitary practices that honor the history of this holiday and have a fun time. For a historical look at Lughnasadh (and where some of the inspiration for this post was drawn), you can see Máire MacNeill (1962) The festival of Lughnasa: a study of the survival of the Celtic festival of the beginning of harvest published by Oxford University Press. For my other posts on other ways to celebrate Lughnasadh, please see building sacred plant relationships at Lughnasadh and Sacred Herbalism at Lughnasadh.
Visits to Sacred Wells (Springs, Waterways, other Bodies of Water)
A Lughnasadh tradition that stems back to ancient times is the journey to a holy well or sacred spring. Although wells and springs do not necessarily have the sacred significance in some parts of the world (like the US) that they have in others, it is still an excellent experience to find a local spring, well, or other waterway and make the journey. You can begin to build a relationship with a spring, well, or other water source which in turn can offer you deep spiritual practices. For more on practices that you might do at a sacred spring, see Seeking Sacred Springs for Inspiration and Healing. If you want to find a spring local to you, you can use www.findaspring.com.
Pilgrimage to a Hill or Mountain
Another very common tradition is the act of climbing a hill or mountain. Like many other traditions, climbing mountains as a sacred act was appropriated by Christianity as part of the coversion of the British Isles. One such modern tradition called “Reek Sunday” where pilgrims climb a mountain sacred to St. Patrick (like everything else, it is likely an older sacred site that was transformed into a Christian monument). Regardless of who claims the practice today, it certainly had pagan origins and was taking place long before the arrival of Christianity.
For your own mountain or hill climb, you will want to think about something that has local significance or personal significance to you. For example, since I live in Western Pennsylvania, one of the best options is to hike to one of the overlooks in the Allegheny mountains–we have several peaks and ridges that are excellent climbs, offer a beautiful overview when you reach the top, and are certainly sacred to me. Finding a spot to climb can be part of the fun!
Once you have your hill or mountain picked out, you can decide if you want to plan something (e.g. bring sacred water, offerings, have a picnic, do a ritual) or keep things spontaneous when you reach the top.
Creating a Garland
Garland creation used to be a common occurrence in the British Isles, seeped in tradition and spiritual significance, but the practice has largely been lost in the Western world (but is still practiced in many other places). A garland is a decorative wreath of flowers and greenery that can be worn as a headdress, a necklace, hang over an altar, laid a an offering (such as at the top of the mountain or next to the sacred spring), or hung in the house as a blessing. Garlands were often used for spiritual purposes, including for celebrations, rituals, offerings, and more. At Lughnasadh, garlands were often placed around holy wells and could also be used for the many weddings and unions that happened at these times. Here is a nice introduction for how to create a garland out of fresh flowers and plant material. I’ll be writing more about garlands and how to build in druid and pagan symbolism soon!
An offering of “First Fruits” or Giving Back
Lughnasadh is a traditional time of first harvest, when the “first fruits” of the land were offered in thanks. Traditionally, offering back part of the first harvest demonstrated reciprocation, interdependency, and the importance of sustaining and nurturing the land. I believe that without these kinds of traditions, we forget how much we depend on, and therefore need to nurture and sustain, our living earth. If you grow something (or go wild food foraging for berries, etc), an early harvest here is an excellent choice for an offering. Even if you don’t grow anything yourself, you can think about an appropriate offering to the land for her bounty: a prayer, a song, a poem, picking up trash, anything that can show that you are giving back. For more on offerings and gratitude practices, you might want to see this post.
Cook a Special Meal with Local / Homegrown Foods
Another take on the “first harvest” is preparing a special meal and taking a little bit of that meal for an offering. Go to a farmer’s market, get what is in season, harvest from your garden. You can also tie it to a ritual–having a ritual meal where you open up sacred space, break bread with loved ones or commune silently with spirit, and simply enjoy the experience of good, local food.
Simply Be / Forest Bathing
I think this last one is really important in today’s hectic life: just take some time to be present in nature. Take a blanket into the woods or a local park. Rest, relax, and allow your mind to wander. Spend time simply in nature, enjoying being outside. Taking an hour or two to do this will be relaxing, grounding, and effective.
Dear readers, I hope you have a very blessed Lughnasadh in the coming week! If you have other solitary ideas for celebrating Lughnasadh, I’d love to have you share.