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Imbolc - Lughnassah / Lammas (English) / (Saint) Brigid’s Day * - Wicca/Pagan/Christian - Northern and Southern Hemispheres

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Fri, 02/02/2018 (All day)

[SEE 1st August].

Imbolc - Lughnassah / Lammas (English) / (Saint) Brigid’s Day * - Wicca/Pagan/Christian - Northern and Southern Hemispheres

Imbolc or Imbolg 

Imbolc or Imbolg (pronounced i-MOLG), also called (Saint) Brigid’s Day (Irish: Lá Fhéile Bríde, Scottish Gaelic: Là Fhèill Brìghde, Manx: Laa’l Breeshey), is a Gaelic traditional festival marking the beginning of spring.  Most commonly it is held on 1 February, or about halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox [1] [2] Historically, it was widely observed throughout Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man.  It is one of the four Gaelic seasonal festivals—along with Beltane, Lughnasadh and Samhain [3] - and corresponds to the Welsh Gŵyl Fair y Canhwyllau.  Christians observe it as the Feast day of Saint Brigid, especially in Ireland. 

Imbolc is mentioned in some of the earliest Irish literature and there is evidence it has been an important date since ancient times.  It is believed that it was originally a pagan festival associated with the goddess Brigid and that it was Christianized as a festival of Saint Brigid, who is thought to be a Christianization of the goddess.  At Imbolc, Brigid’s crosses were made and a doll-like figure of Brigid, called a Brídeóg, would be paraded from house-to-house.  Brigid was said to visit one’s home at Imbolc.  To receive her blessings, people would make a bed for Brigid and leave her food and drink, while items of clothing would be left outside for her to bless.  Brigid was also invoked to protect homes and livestock.  Special Feasts were had, holy wells were visited and it was also a time for divination. 

Although many of its customs died out in the 20th century, it is still observed and in some places it has been revived as a cultural event.  Since the latter 20th century, Celtic neopagans and Wiccans have observed Imbolc, or something based on it, as a religious holiday [1] [2]. 

Etymology [edit]. 

The etymology of Imbolc/Imbolg is unclear.  The most common explanation is that is comes from the Old Irish i mbolc (Modern Irish i mbolg), meaning “in the belly”, and refers to the pregnancy of ewes [4] Another possible origin is the Old Irish imb-fholc, “to wash/cleanse oneself”, referring to a ritual cleansing [5] Eric P.  Hamp derives it from a Proto-Indo-European root meaning both “milk”and “cleansing” [6] Professor Alan Ward derives it from the Proto-Celtic *embibolgon, “budding” [7] The 10th century Cormac’s Glossary derives it from oimelc, “ewe milk”, [8] but many scholars see this as a folk etymology.  Nevertheless, some Neopagans have adopted Oimelc as a name for the festival. 

Since Imbolc is immediately followed (on 2 February) by Candlemas (Irish Lá Fhéile Muire na gCoinneal “Feast day of Mary of the Candles”, Welsh Gŵyl Fair y Canhwyllau), [9] Irish Imbolc is sometimes translated into English as “Candlemas”; e.g.  iar n-imbulc, ba garb a ngeilt translated as “after Candlemas, rough was their herding” [10]. 

Prehistory [edit]. 

The date of Imbolc is thought to have been significant in Ireland since the Neolithic period [11] This is based on the alignment of some Megalithic monuments.  For example, at the Mound of the Hostages on the Hill of Tara, the inner chamber is aligned with the rising sun on the dates of Imbolc and Samhain [12] [13]. 

Historic Imbolc customs [edit]. 

In Gaelic Ireland, Imbolc was the feis or festival marking the beginning of spring, during which great Feasts were held.  It is attested in some of the earliest Old Irish literature, from the 10th century onward.  It was one of four Gaelic seasonal festivals: Samhain (~1 November), Imbolc (~1 February), Beltane (~1 May) and Lughnasadh (~1 August). 

From the 18th century to the mid 20th century, many accounts of Imbolc/St Brigid’s Day were recorded by folklorists and other writers.  They tell us how it was celebrated then, and shed light on how it may have been celebrated in the past  [2] [14]. 

People making Brigid’s crosses at St Brigid’s Well near Liscannor 

Imbolc has traditionally been celebrated on 1 February.  However, because the day was deemed to begin and end at sunset, the celebrations would start on what is now 31 January.  It has also been argued that the timing of the festival was originally more fluid and based on seasonal changes.  It has been associated with the onset of the lambing season [15]—which could vary by as much as two weeks before or after 1 February [4]—and the blooming of blackthorn [16]. 

The holiday was a festival of the hearth and home, and a celebration of the lengthening days and the early signs of spring.  Celebrations often involved hearthfires, special foods, divination or watching for omens, candles or a bonfire if the weather permitted [1] [17] Fire and purification were an important part of the festival.  The lighting of candles and fires represented the return of warmth and the increasing power of the Sun over the coming months [4] A spring cleaning was also customary [18]. 

Holy wells were visited at Imbolc, and at the other Gaelic festivals of Beltane and Lughnasa.  Visitors to holy wells would pray for health while walking ‘sunwise’ around the well.  They would then leave offerings; typically coins or clooties (see clootie well).  Water from the well was used to bless the home, family members, livestock and fields [18] [19]. 

Donald Alexander Mackenzie also recorded that offerings were made “to earth and sea”.  The offering could be milk poured into the ground or porridge poured into the water, as a libation [20]. 

Brigid [edit]. 

Imbolc is strongly associated with Saint Brigid (Old Irish: Brigit, modern Irish: Bríd, modern Scottish Gaelic: Brìghde or Brìd, anglicised Bridget).  Saint Brigid is thought to have been based on Brigid, a Gaelic goddess [21] The festival, which celebrates the onset of spring, is thought to be linked with Brigid in her role as a fertility goddess [15]. 

On Imbolc Eve, Brigid was said to visit virtuous households and bless the inhabitants [22] As Brigid represented the light half of the year, and the power that will bring people from the dark season of winter into spring, her presence was very important at this time of year [17] [23]. 

Families would have a special meal or supper on Imbolc Eve.  This typically included food such as colcannon, sowans, dumplings, barmbrack and/or bannocks [18] Often, some of the food and drink would be set aside for Brigid [22]. 

Brigid would be symbolically invited into the house and a bed would often be made for her.  In the north of Ireland a family member, representing Brigid, would circle the home three times carrying rushes.  They would then knock the door three times, asking to be let in.  On the third attempt they are welcomed in, the meal is had, and the rushes are then made into a bed or crosses [24] In 18th century Mann, the custom was to stand at the door with a bundle of rushes and say “Brede, Brede, come to my house tonight.  Open the door for Brede and let Brede come in”.  The rushes were then strewn on the floor as a carpet or bed for Brigid.  In the 19th century, some old Manx women would make a bed for Brigid in the barn with food, ale, and a candle on a table [22] In the Hebrides in the late 18th century, a bed of hay would be made for Brigid and someone would then call out three times: “a Bhríd, a Bhríd, thig a stigh as gabh do leabaidh” (“Bríd Bríd, come in; thy bed is ready”) [22] A white wand, usually made of birch, would be set by the bed.  It represented the wand that Brigid was said to use to make the vegetation start growing again [25] In the 19th century, women in the Hebrides would dance while holding a large cloth and calling out “Bridean, Bridean, thig an nall ‘s dean do leabaidh” (“Bríd Bríd, come over and make your bed”).  However, by this time the bed itself was rarely made [22]. 

Before going to bed, people would leave items of clothing or strips of cloth outside for Brigid to bless [22] Ashes from the fire would be raked smooth and, in the morning, they would look for some kind of mark on the ashes as a sign that Brigid had visited [22] [26] The clothes or strips of cloth would be brought inside, and believed to now have powers of healing and protection [17] [23]. 

In Ireland and Scotland, a representation of Brigid would be paraded around the community by girls and young women.  Sometimes the representative was a girl, but usually it was a doll-like figure known as a Brídeóg (also called a ‘Breedhoge’ or ‘Biddy’).  It would be made from rushes or reeds and clad in bits of cloth, shells and/or flowers [22] [26] In the Hebrides of Scotland, a bright shell or crystal called the reul-iuil Bríde (guiding star of Brigid) was set on its cheSt.  The girls would carry it in procession while singing a hymn to Brigid.  All wore white with their hair unbound as a symbol of purity and youth.  They visited every house in the area, where they received either food or more decoration for the Brídeóg.  Afterwards, they Feasted in a house with the Brídeóg set in a place of honour, and put it to bed with lullabies.  When the meal was done, the local young men humbly asked for admission, made obeisance to the Brídeóg, and joined the girls in dancing and merrymaking [22] In many parts, only unwed girls could carry the Brídeóg, but in some places both boys and girls carried it [27] In the late 17th century, Catholic families in the Hebrides would make a bed for the Brídeóg out of a basket [22] Up until the mid-20th century, children in Ireland still went house-to-house asking for pennies for “poor Biddy”, or money for the poor.  In County Kerry, men in white robes went from house to house singing [28]. 

In Ireland, Brigid’s crosses (pictured on the right) were made at Imbolc.  A Brigid’s cross usually consists of rushes woven into a square or equilateral cross, although three-armed crosses have also been recorded [29] [30] They were often hung over doors, windows and stables to welcome Brigid and protect the buildings from fire and lightning.  The crosses were generally left there until the next Imbolc [22] In western Connacht, people would make a Crios Bríde (Bríd’s girdle); a great ring of rushes with a cross woven in the middle.  Young boys would carry it around the village, inviting people to step through it and so be blessed [22]. 

Today, some people still make Brigid’s crosses and Brídeógs or visit holy wells dedicated to St Brigid on 1 February [31]. 

Weather divination [edit]. 

Snowdrops in the snow 

Imbolc was traditionally a time of weather divination, and the old tradition of watching to see if serpents or badgers came from their winter dens may be a forerunner of the North American Groundhog Day.  A Scottish Gaelic proverb about the day is: 

Thig an nathair as an toll 

Là donn Brìde, 

Ged robh trì troighean dhen t-sneachd 

Air leac an làir. 

The serpent will come from the hole 

On the brown Day of Bríde, 

Though there should be three feet of snow 

On the flat surface of the ground [32]. 

Imbolc was believed to be when the Cailleach—the divine hag of Gaelic tradition—gathers her firewood for the rest of the winter.  Legend has it that if she wishes to make the winter last a good while longer, she will make sure the weather on Imbolc is bright and sunny, so she can gather plenty of firewood.  Therefore, people would be relieved if Imbolc is a day of foul weather, as it means the Cailleach is asleep and winter is almost over [33] At Imbolc on the Isle of Man, where she is known as Caillagh ny Groamagh, the Cailleach is said to take the form of a gigantic bird carrying sticks in her beak [33]. 

Neopaganism [edit]. 

Imbolc celebration in Marsden, West Yorkshire, February 2007 

Imbolc or Imbolc-based festivals are held by some Neopagans.  As there are many kinds of Neopaganism, their Imbolc celebrations can be very different despite the shared name.  Some try to emulate the historic festival as much as possible.  Other Neopagans base their celebrations on many sources, with historic accounts of Imbolc being only one of them [34] [35]. 

Neopagans usually celebrate Imbolc on 1 February in the Northern Hemisphere and 1 August in the Southern Hemisphere [36] [37] [38] [39] Some Neopagans celebrate it at the astronomical midpoint between the winter solstice and spring equinox (or the full moon nearest this point).  In the Northern Hemisphere, this is usually on the 3rd or 4 February [40] Other Neopagans celebrate Imbolc when the primroses, dandelions, and other spring flowers emerge [41]. 

Celtic Reconstructionist [edit]. 

Celtic Reconstructionists strive to reconstruct the pre-Christian religions of the Celts.  Their religious practices are based on research and historical accounts, [42] [43] but may be modified slightly to suit modern life.  They avoid syncretism (i.e.  combining practises from different cultures).  They usually celebrate the festival when the first stirrings of spring are felt, or on the full moon nearest this.  Many use traditional songs and rites from sources such as The Silver Bough and The Carmina Gadelica.  It is a time of honouring the Goddess Brigid, and many of her dedicants choose this time of year for rituals to her [42] [43]. 

Wicca and NeoDruidry [edit]. 

Wiccans and Neo-Druids celebrate something based on Imbolc as one of the eight Sabbats in their Wheel of the Year, following Midwinter and preceding Ostara.  In Wicca, Imbolc is commonly associated with the goddess Brigid and as such it is sometimes seen as a “women’s holiday”with specific rites only for female members of a coven [44] Among Dianic Wiccans, Imbolc is the traditional time for initiations [45]. 

Lughnasadh or Lughnasa 

Lughnasadh or Lughnasa (pronounced /ˈluːnəsə/, LOO-nə-sə; Irish: Lúnasa, /ˈl̪ˠuːn̪ˠəsˠə/; Scottish Gaelic: Lùnastal, [ˈl̪ˠu:nəsd̥əl̪ˠ]; Manx: Luanistyn, [ˈluanɪst̪ən]) is a Gaelic festival marking the beginning of the harvest season.  Historically, it was widely observed throughout Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man.  Originally it was held on 1 August, or about halfway between the summer solstice and autumn equinox.  However, over time the celebrations shifted to the Sundays nearest this date.  Lughnasadh is one of the four Gaelic seasonal festivals, along with Samhain, Imbolc and Beltane.  It corresponds to other European harvest festivals such as the Welsh Gŵyl Awst and the English Lammas. 

Lughnasadh is mentioned in some of the earliest Irish literature and has pagan origins.  The festival itself is named after the god Lugh.  It involved great gatherings that included religious ceremonies, ritual athletic contests (most notably the Tailteann Games), Feasting, matchmaking and trading.  There were also visits to holy wells.  According to folklorist Máire MacNeill, evidence shows that the religious rites included an offering of the ‘first fruits’, a Feast of the new food and of bilberries, the sacrifice of a bull and a ritual dance-play in which Lugh seizes the harvest for mankind and defeats the powers of blight.  Much of the activities would have taken place on top of hills and mountains. 

Lughnasadh customs persisted widely until the 20th century, with the event being variously named ‘Garland Sunday’, ‘Bilberry Sunday’, ‘Mountain Sunday’ and ‘Crom Dubh Sunday’.  The custom of climbing hills and mountains at Lughnasadh has survived in some areas, although it has been re-cast as a Christian pilgrimage.  The best known is the ‘Reek Sunday’ pilgrimage to the top of Croagh Patrick on the last Sunday in July.  A number of fairs are also believed to be survivals of Lughnasadh, for example the Puck Fair.  Since the later 20th century, Celtic neopagans have observed Lughnasadh, or something based on it, as a religious holiday.  In some places, elements of the festival have been revived as a cultural event. 

In Old Irish (or Old Gaelic), the name was Lugnasad (IPA: [lˠʊɣnˠəsˠəd̪ˠ]).  This is a combination of Lug (the god Lugh) and násad (an assembly), which is unstressed when used as a suffix [1] Later spellings include Luᵹ̇nasaḋ, Lughnasadh and Lughnasa. 

In Modern Irish (Gaeilge), the spelling is Lúnasa, which is also the name for the month of AuguSt.  The genitive case is also Lúnasa as in Mí Lúnasa (Month of August) [1] and Lá Lúnasa (Day of Lúnasa) [2] [3] In Modern Scottish Gaelic (Gàidhlig), the festival and the month are both called Lùnastal [4] In Manx (Gaelg), the festival and the month are both called Luanistyn.  The day itself may be called either Laa Luanistyn or Laa Luanys [5]. 

In Welsh (Cymraeg), the day is known as Calan Awst, originally a Latin term, [6] the Calends of August in English [1] In Breton (brezhoneg), the day was known as Gouel Eost, [7] the Feast of AuguSt. 

Historic Lughnasadh customs [edit]. 

In Irish mythology, the Lughnasadh festival is said to have been begun by the god Lugh (modern spelling: Lú) as a funeral Feast and athletic competition (see funeral games) in commemoration of his mother or foster-mother Tailtiu [8] She was said to have died of exhaustion after clearing the plains of Ireland for agriculture [8] Tailtiu may have been an earth goddess who represented the dying vegetation that fed mankind [9] The funeral games in her honour were called the Óenach Tailten or Áenach Tailten (modern spelling: Aonach Tailteann) and were held each Lughnasadh at Tailtin in what is now County Meath.  According to medieval writings, kings attended this óenach and a truce was declared for its duration.  It was similar to the Ancient Olympic Games and included ritual athletic and sporting contests, horse racing, music and storytelling, trading, proclaiming laws and settling legal disputes, drawing-up contracts, and matchmaking [8] [10] [11] At Tailtin, trial marriages were conducted, whereby young couples joined hands through a hole in a wooden door [12] The trial marriage lasted a year and a day, at which time the marriage could be made permanent or broken without consequences [8] [13] [14] [15] [16] A similar Lughnasadh festival, the Óenach Carmain, was held in what is now County Kildare.  Carman is also believed to have been a goddess, perhaps one with a similar tale as Tailtiu [17] The Óenach Carmain included a food market, a livestock market, and a market for foreign traders [10] After the 9th century the Óenach Tailten was celebrated irregularly and it gradually died out [18] It was revived for a period in the 20th century as the Tailteann Games [13] [17]. 

From the 18th century to the mid 20th century, many accounts of Lughnasadh customs and folklore were recorded.  In 1962 The Festival of Lughnasa, a study of Lughnasadh by folklorist Máire MacNeill, was published.  MacNeill studied surviving Lughnasadh customs and folklore as well as the earlier accounts and medieval writings about the festival.  She concluded that the evidence testified to the existence of an ancient festival around 1 August that involved the following: 

Pilgrims climbing Croagh Patrick on “Reek Sunday”.  It is believed that climbing hills and mountains was a big part of the festival since ancient times, and the “Reek Sunday”pilgrimage is likely a continuation of this. 

A solemn cutting of the first of the corn of which an offering would be made to the deity by bringing it up to a high place and burying it; a meal of the new food and of bilberries of which everyone must partake; a sacrifice of a sacred bull, a Feast of its flesh, with some ceremony involving its hide, and its replacement by a young bull; a ritual dance-play perhaps telling of a struggle for a goddess and a ritual fight; an installation of a [carved stone] head on top of the hill and a triumphing over it by an actor impersonating Lugh; another play representing the confinement by Lugh of the monster blight or famine; a three-day celebration presided over by the brilliant young god [Lugh] or his human representative.  Finally, a ceremony indicating that the interregnum was over, and the chief god in his right place again [19]. 

According to MacNeill, the main theme that emerges from the folklore and rituals of Lughnasadh is a struggle for the harvest between two gods.  One god – usually called Crom Dubh – has generated the growth of the crops and guards this as his ‘treasure’.  The other god – Lugh – must seize it for mankind [20] [21] Sometimes, this was portrayed as a struggle over a woman called Eithne, who represents the grain.  Having won the harvest, Lugh then fights and defeats a figure representing blight [20] MacNeill says that these themes can also be seen in early Irish mythology, particularly in the Battle of Magh Tuireadh and the tale of Lugh and Balor [20] In the later folklore, Lugh is often replaced by Saint Patrick, and Crom Dubh is described as a pagan chief.  Crom Dubh is likely the same figure as Crom Cruach and may be a later version of the Dagda [20]. 

Many of the customs described by MacNeill and by medieval writers were being practised into the modern era, though they were either Christianized or shorn of any pagan religious meaning.  Many of Ireland’s prominent mountains and hills were climbed at Lughnasadh.  Some of the treks were eventually re-cast as Christian pilgrimages, the most well-known being Reek Sunday—the yearly pilgrimage to the top of Croagh Patrick in late July [22] Other hilltop gatherings were secular and attended mostly by the youth.  In Ireland, bilberries were gathered [23] and there was eating, drinking, dancing, folk music, games and matchmaking, as well as athletic and sporting contests such as weight-throwing, hurling and horse racing [24] At some gatherings, everyone wore flowers while climbing the hill and then buried them at the summit as a sign that summer was ending [25] In other places, the first sheaf of the harvest was buried [26] There were also faction fights, whereby two groups of young men fought with sticks [27] In 18th-century Lothian, rival groups of young men built towers of sods topped with a flag.  For days, each group tried to sabotage the other’s tower, and at Lughnasadh they met each other in ‘battle’ [28] Bull sacrifices around Lughnasadh time were recorded as late as the 18th century at Cois Fharraige in Ireland (where they were offered to Crom Dubh) and at Loch Maree in Scotland (where they were offered to Saint Máel Ruba) [29] Special meals were made with the first produce of the harveSt [30] In the Scottish Highlands, people made a special cake called the lunastain, which may have originated as an offering to the gods [31]. 

Another custom that Lughnasadh shared with Imbolc and Beltane was visiting holy wells.  Visitors to holy wells would pray for health while walking sunwise around the well.  They would then leave offerings; typically coins or clooties (see clootie well) [32] Although bonfires were lit at some of the open-air gatherings in Ireland, they were rare and incidental to the celebrations [33]. 

Modern Lughnasadh customs [edit]. 

In Ireland, some of the mountain pilgrimages have survived.  By far the most popular is the Reek Sunday pilgrimage at Croagh Patrick, which attracts tens of thousands of pilgrims each year.  The Catholic Church in Ireland established the custom of blessing fields at Lughnasadh. 

The Puck Fair circa 1900, showing the wild goat (King Puck) atop his ‘throne’ 

The Puck Fair is held each year in early August in the town of Killorglin, County Kerry.  It has been traced as far back as the 16th century but is believed to be a survival of a Lughnasadh festival.  At the beginning of the three-day festival, a wild goat is brought into the town and crowned ‘king’, while a local girl is crowned ‘queen’.  The festival includes traditional music and dancing, a parade, arts and crafts workshops, a horse and cattle fair, and a market.  It draws a great number of tourists each year. 

In recent years, other towns in Ireland have begun holding yearly Lughnasa Festivals and Lughnasa Fairs.  Like the Puck Fair, these often include traditional music and dancing, arts and crafts workshops, traditional storytelling, and markets.  Such festivals have been held in Gweedore, [34] Sligo, [35] Brandon, [36] Rathangan [37] and a number of other places.  Craggaunowen, an open-air museum in County Clare, hosts a yearly Lughnasa Festival at which historical re-enactors demonstrate elements of daily life in Gaelic Ireland.  It includes displays of replica clothing, artefacts, weapons and jewellery [38] A similar event has been held each year at Carrickfergus Castle in County Antrim [39] In 2011, RTÉ aired a live television program from Craggaunowen at Lughnasa, called Lughnasa Live [40]. 

In the Irish diaspora, survivals of the Lughnasadh festivities are often seen by some families still choosing August as the traditional time for family reunions and parties, though due to modern work schedules these events have sometimes been moved to adjacent secular holidays, such as the Fourth of July in the United States [13] [14]. 

The festival is referenced in Brian Friel’s play Dancing at Lughnasa (1990), which was made into a film of the same name. 

Neopaganism [edit]. 

Lughnasadh and Lughnasadh-based festivals are held by some Neopagans, especially Celtic Neopagans.  However, their Lughnasadh celebrations can be very different despite the shared name.  Some try to emulate the historic festival as much as possible, [41] while others base their celebrations on many sources, the Gaelic festival being only one of them [42] [43]. 

Neopagans usually celebrate Lughnasadh on 31 July – 1 August in the Northern Hemisphere and 31 January – 1 February in the Southern Hemisphere, beginning and ending at sunset [44] [45] [46] [47] [48] Some Neopagans celebrate it at the astronomical midpoint between the summer solstice and autumn equinox (or the full moon nearest this point) [49] In 2017, this is on 7 August in the Northern Hemisphere [50]. 

Celtic Reconstructionist [edit]. 

Celtic Reconstructionists strive to reconstruct the pre-Christian religions of the Celts.  Their religious practises are based on research and historical accounts, [41] [51] but may be modified slightly to suit modern life.  They avoid syncretism (i.e.  combining practises from different cultures). 

Celtic Reconstructionists who follow Gaelic traditions tend to celebrate Lughnasadh at the time of “first fruits”, or on the full moon nearest this time.  In the Northeastern United States, this is often the time of the blueberry harvest, while in the Pacific Northwest the blackberries are often the festival fruit [14] [51] In Celtic Reconstructionism, Lughnasadh is seen as a time to give thanks to the spirits and deities for the beginning of the harvest season, and to propitiate them with offerings and prayers not to harm the still-ripening crops.  The god Lugh is honoured by many at this time, and gentle rain on the day of the festival is seen as his presence and his bestowing of blessings.  Many Celtic Reconstructionists also honour the goddess Tailtiu at Lughnasadh, and may seek to keep the Cailleachan from damaging the crops, much in the way appeals are made to Lugh [14] [51] [52] [53]. 

Wicca [edit]. 

Wiccans use the names “Lughnasadh”or “Lammas”for the first of their autumn harvest festivals.  It is one of the eight yearly “Sabbats”of their Wheel of the Year, following Midsummer and preceding Mabon.  It is seen as one of the two most auspicious times for handfasting, the other being at Beltane [54] Some Wiccans mark the holiday by baking a figure of the “corn god”in bread, and then symbolically sacrificing and eating it [44]. 

Lammas (English) 


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For the village in England, see Lammas, Norfolk.  For the summer growth of trees, see Lammas growth. 


also known as Lambess 

Observed by 




(Neopagans, Wiccans) 


(Catholics, Anglicans) 


Cultural, Religious (Pagan, Christian) 



Funeral Games 

First Fruits 


Loaves made from the grain collected at harveSt. 


1 August (Northern Hemisphere) 

1 February (Southern Hemisphere) 

Related to 


Lammas Day (Anglo-Saxon hlaf-mas, “loaf-mass”), is a holiday celebrated in some English-speaking countries in the Northern Hemisphere, usually between 1 August and 1 September.  It is a festival to mark the annual wheat harvest, and is the first harvest festival of the year.  On this day it was customary to bring to church a loaf made from the new crop, which began to be harvested at Lammastide. 

The loaf was blessed, and in Anglo-Saxon England it might be employed afterwards to work magic: [1] a book of Anglo-Saxon charms directed that the lammas bread be broken into four bits, which were to be placed at the four corners of the barn, to protect the garnered grain. 

In many parts of England, tenants were bound to present freshly harvested wheat to their landlords on or before the first day of AuguSt.  In the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, where it is referred to regularly, it is called “the Feast of first fruits”.  The blessing of first fruits was performed annually in both the Eastern and Western Churches on the first or the sixth of August (the latter being the Feast of the Transfiguration of Christ). 

Lammas has coincided with the Feast of St.  Peter in Chains, commemorating St.  Peter’s miraculous deliverance from prison, but in the liturgical reform of 1969, the Feast of St.  Alphonsus Liguori was transferred to this day, the day of St.  Alphonsus’ death. 

Lammas (English) 

History [edit]. 

In medieval times the Feast was sometimes known in England and Scotland as the “Gule of August”, [2] but the meaning of “gule”is unclear.  Ronald Hutton suggests [3] following the 18th-century Welsh clergyman antiquary John Pettingall [4] that it is merely an Anglicisation of Gŵyl Awst, the Welsh name of the “Feast of August”.  OED and most etymological dictionaries give it a more circuitous origin similar to gullet; from O.  Fr.  goulet, dim.  of goule, “throat, neck,”from L.  gula “throat,”. 

Several antiquaries beginning with John Brady [5] offered a back-construction to its being originally known as Lamb-mass, under the undocumented supposition that tenants of the Cathedral of York, dedicated to St.  Peter ad Vincula, of which this is the Feast, would have been required to bring a live lamb to the church, [6] or, with John Skinner, “because Lambs then grew out of season.  “This is a folk etymology, of which OED notes that it was “subsequently felt as if from LAMB + MASS”. 

For many villeins, the wheat must have run low in the days before Lammas, and the new harvest began a season of plenty, of hard work and company in the fields, reaping in teams [7] Thus there was a spirit of celebratory play. 

In the medieval agricultural year, Lammas also marked the end of the hay harvest that had begun after Midsummer.  At the end of hay-making a sheep would be loosed in the meadow among the mowers, for him to keep who could catch it [8]. 

In Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (1.  3.  19) it is observed of Juliet, “Come Lammas Eve at night shall she [Juliet] be fourteen.  “Since Juliet was born Lammas eve, she came before the harvest festival, which is significant since her life ended before she could reap what she had sown and enjoy the bounty of the harvest, in this case full consummation and enjoyment of her love with Romeo. 

Another well-known cultural reference is the opening of The Battle of Otterburn: “It fell about the Lammas tide when the muir-men win their hay”. 

William Hone speaks in The Every-Day Book (1838) of a later festive Lammas day sport common among Scottish farmers near Edinburgh.  He says that they “build towers..leaving a hole for a flag-pole in the centre so that they may raise their colours.  “When the flags over the many peat-constructed towers were raised, farmers would go to others’ towers and attempt to “level them to the ground.  “A successful attempt would bring great praise.  However, people were allowed to defend their towers, and so everyone was provided with a “tooting-horn”to alert nearby country folk of the impending attack and the battle would turn into a “brawl.  “According to Hone, more than four people had died at this festival and many more were injured.  At the day’s end, races were held, with prizes given to the townspeople. 

Neopaganism [edit]. 

Main article: Wheel of the Year 

Lughnasadh or Lammas is also the name used for one of the eight sabbats in the Neopagan Wheel of the Year.  It is the first of the three autumn harvest festivals, the other two being the autumn equinox (also called Mabon) and Samhain.  In the Northern Hemisphere it takes place around 1 August, while in the Southern Hemisphere it is celebrated around 1 February [9] [10] [11] [12]. 

Other uses [edit]. 

Lammas is one of the Scottish quarter days. 

Lammas leaves or Lammas growth refers to a second crop of leaves produced in high summer by some species of trees in temperate countries to replace those lost to insect damage.  They often differ slightly in shape, texture and/or hairiness from the earlier leaves.  On The day of lammas its traditional to sit round a fire and sing songs. 

In popular culture [edit]. 

Britain and Ireland 


Brigid - Celtic Goddess To Christian Saint - The Feast of Imbolg

Emmett McIntyre's picture

Submitted by Emmett McIntyre on January 30, 2017 - 4:10pm


During the period of Christian conversion of Ireland in the 4th and 5th centuries, it was the strategy of monastic scholars to ensure an easy transition from Celtic to Christian belief. The disciples of Saint Patrick successfully deceived the Celts into thinking that the new faith of Rome was a mere extension of their traditional religion.


Christian missionaries incorporated elements of the peoples veneration of the Celtic Gods into Christian doctrine. The often used example of this religious shift is the fate of Brigid. Brigid was deftly transformed from a daughter of ‘The Dagda’ of the Tuatha Dé Danann into the Saint of the same name. In the early tales of the Christian Saint, Brigid is portrayed as the daughter of a Druidical household before her embrace of the new religion. The Druids were the priests of the pagan Celtic religion but were also akin to today’s upper middle classes: “The Druids were the professionals of pre Christian Celtic society. They comprised all the professions – doctors, lawyers, teachers, philosophers, ambassadors...(and priests of the Celtic Faith)” (Ellis). Thus with her conversion to Christianity, Brigid abandons the Celtic Gods and their priests, the Druids. To reinforce this transition the early church adopted the feast day of the Celtic Goddess Brigid, or Imbolg, to the feast day of the Christian saint.


Imbolg, observed on the first day of February, is the second of the four ancient yearly Celtic Festivals, representing the advent of the traditional agricultural year. It is a pastoral holiday marking the start of the lactation of domesticated sheep, an important annual milestone to the pastoral Celt.  Imbolg is connected with the Celtic goddess Brigit because Imbolg is the same day as the Festival of the Goddess Brigit. The exact same day.


Christians recognise Brigit as an Irish Saint, second only to St. Patrick and ranking with St. Columba.  But the pagan deity of the same name had a much wider influence. There is archaeological evidence of the Celtic Goddess Brigit being worshipped not only in the modern Celtic nations but in pre-Roman continental Europe during the period of Celtic cultural hegemony, a time when the Celts held sway from the British Islands to the Black Sea.  Patricia Monaghan in "The Encyclopaedia of Celtic Mythology and Folklore" continues on the same line:


 As goddess, Brigid is a rarity among the Celts, a divinity who appears in many sites. Her name has numerous variants (Brigid/Brigit/Brid/Brighid). As Celtic divinities tended to be intensely place bound, the apparently pan-Celtic nature of this figure is remarkable. The Irish Goddess ruled transformation of all sorts: through poetry, through smith craft, through healing. Associated with fire and cattle, she was the daughter of the (immensely powerful) god of fertility, the Dagda.

Thus emerges the picture of Brigid, the Exalted One, a majestic deity who spanned the Celtic world at its most powerful.  A deity that Christian Monks who, upon their penetration of the Celtic homelands in the 6th century after the collapse of the Roman world, could not ignore. So they set about transforming Brigid, the “Exalted One” of the Celtic pantheon, and the daughter of Dagda, to a Christian Saint to be used as a potent weapon in their war on the pagan beliefs of the Celts.


Dr. Jenny Butler

Dr. Jenny Butler

In an article published by Transceltic on October 25, 2013 entitled Interview with Dr. Jenny Butler: The Celtic Folklore traditions of Halloween, we asked Dr. Butler to explain how the pagan feast day of Samhain (Halloween) become a holy day of the Catholic Church and if she saw a parallel in the merging of Imbolg, the Feast Day of the Celtic Goddess Brigit, into the Feast Day of the Catholic Saint Brigit. Dr Butler is a Folklorist and Lecturer at University College Cork's Folklore and Ethnology Department and a member of The Irish Society for the Academic Study of Religions. Dr. Butler has numerous articles to her credit and is currently working on a book about Irish contemporary Paganism. According to Dr. Butler:


"The pagan festival of Samhain (Halloween) did not directly morph into a Catholic holy day. In fact, All Saints Day was originally held on May 1st, but was moved to November 1st in the year 834 and the festival became fixed at November 1st on the Gregorian calendar. All Souls’ Day follows the day after All Saints’ Day. On November 2nd for All Souls’, Roman Catholics pray for the faithful departed souls who are in purgatory. ‘Halloween’ is etymologically related to the Christian festival of All Hallows Day, Hallowmas or All Saints’ Day on 1st November, as follows: ‘Hallows’ derives from the Old English word hālig, meaning ‘holy’. Hallow means ‘to make holy’ and before the year 1121 halgod (past participle) was used. Later, halwen and halowen (about 1300) were used and about the year 1745, the Scottish shortening of Allhallow-even (for All Hallow’s Eve) became Hallowe’en. It is likely that the holy days of All Saints and All Souls were placed near Samhain since it coincided with an already existing feast of the dead."


"In relation to the Celtic Feast Day of Imbolg there is a clearer merging of pagan and Christian traditions. Brigit is a Christianised goddess who is associated with the spring festival. St Brigit’s feast day is February 1st and this is also the traditional marker of the beginning of spring. The Old Irish name for the festival is Oimelc, possibly meaning ‘ewe’s milk; lambs are born at this time of year and ewes come into milk at this point so that they will be able to feed the lambs during the coming season. The word imbolc or Imbolg, ‘im’ ‘bolg’, likely meaning ‘in the belly’, might also refer to lambing season. The Irish goddess Brigit is associated with human and animal lactation. She was said to be the daughter of the Dagda, one of the principle gods in the Celtic pantheon, and the wife of Bres, a half-Fomorii God. Although it is thought that people throughout Ireland venerated this goddess, she is particularly associated with the province of Leinster and she may have been the sovereignty goddess of that region. Her chief shrine was in Kildare, where priestesses tended her vigil fire. The shrine of Brigit was taken over by nuns and in legend these nuns continued to tend the sacred flame of Brigit at that same location in County Kildare until the thirteenth century, when the Bishop of Kildare decreed that the custom was pagan and therefore must cease. The goddess Brigit is a pan-Celtic deity and there are parallels in Britain with the worship of Brigantia, a name that means ‘high one’ or ‘queen’ and the name Brigit is thought by some scholars to be an epithet meaning ‘exalted one’. Another possible parallel is the Goddess Brigindo, worshipped by the Gauls. With the Christianisation of Ireland, the goddess Brigit became St Brigit and customs to do with the spring fertility festival were attached to St Brigit’s feast day in popular tradition. The correlation between Christian holy days and the earlier pagan religious festivals is even clearer in this case than in the case of Samhain."


It is arguable that nothing typifies more the successful tactics of the Christian conversion of Ireland than the fate of Brigit, the daughter of Dagda (a principal god of Celtic mythology). One is tempted to weep to imagine how she suffers having spent the past 1600 years confined to the rigid confines of the Christian liturgy. To promote their new religion, a new and confusing theology to the Gael, the soldiers of St. Patrick transformed Brigit into a Christian rather than a Celtic deity


Miranda Green in her work the Dictionary of Celtic Myth and Legend characterises the transition from Celtic Goddess to Christian Saint:


 The name of the Irish goddess was originally an epithet meaning "exalted one". Brigit is of special interest because she appears to have undergone a smooth transition from Pagan Goddess to Christian Saint. As a saint, Brigit took over many of the attributes of the pagan goddess.  Her birth and upbringing were steeped in magic. She was born in a Druid’s household and fed on the milk of magical, Otherworld cows.  As a Saint of Kildare her fertility symbolism is intense, even though she herself was a virgin. She supplied limitless food without her larder ever dwindling; she could provide a lake of milk from her cows.  But the most significant factor in the transition is that the feast day of St. Brigit took place on 1 February, Celtic feast of Imbolg, which was the Festival of Brigit the goddess.

However, the elimination of Celtic pagan religious practices proved a daunting task, so much so that the 7th century Pope Gregory was prompted to decree:


 Take advantage of well-built temples by purifying them from devil worship and dedicating them to the service of the true God.

And it was in this spirit that the shrine at the Kil Dara (the temple of the oak), a pagan sanctuary built from the wood of a tree sacred to the Druids and which was dedicated to the Celtic Goddess was changed into a Christian shrine.  The ritual fire of the Druids, which honoured Brigit, was extinguished and a new flame lit in deference to the Christian Saint. Thus the disciples of Saint Patrick adopted the pre-Christian practices of the Celts so that the new religion was viewed as a continuation of their ancient beliefs.


There are four great Feast Days of the Celtic Year:


Samhain - the Celtic New Year (Halloween) celebrated on November 1st

Imbolg - the Feast of the Goddess Brigit on February 1st

Beltane – festival honouring the beginning of summer

Lughnasadh - the harvest festival and last feast day in the year which falls on August 1st

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