Saturday, July 30, 2011

Lughnasadh – Celebrating the Early Harvest

Millstone by Nellie Levine
As August approaches, the hay fields are tended. Around the corner from my house is a large field that at this time of year is dotted with newly collected hay bales. Cattails grow tall by the water, and black-eyed Susans, tiger lilies, and goldenrod paint the landscape in rich yellow and orange. It is the time of the early harvest – in European pagan tradition there are several harvest festivals, and Lughnasadh, which is celebrated on August 1st, is the earliest.


 Although many of us do not live an agricultural life, it goes without saying that we still certainly appreciate the importance of the harvest in our lives. Whether or not we grow our own vegetables or bake our own bread, as we smell the sweet scent of apples, run our fingers through silky smooth grain, or drink summer’s sweet berry wine, we feel and connect to the land’s vitality. The spirit of growth and abundance is within us.

Traditionally, this was a time to harvest the first grains of the season, and to bake and share fresh bread. It was also a time to recognize our crafts and skills or begin to learn new ones, and in some areas, it was a time for old-fashioned job or hiring fairs. It was an acknowledgement of labor and the fruits of that labor. The god Lugh was honored, bonfires burned for three days, and deep in our ancestral past, a symbolic grain king would be sacrificed. 

Lughnasadh was also a time for harvesting as well as blessing many herbs that would be used throughout the year. Nine herbs were particularly sacred, and they included arnica, calendula, dill, lovage, mugwort, sage, tansy, valerian, and yarrow. These herbs were gathered by women before the sun rose, and were tied together into bundles, which were then decorated with wildflowers.

At the time, each of these herbs was believed to bring specific health, culinary, or magical benefits. A few examples:
·         Arnica – anti-inflammatory, protective against demons, an herb of Freya

·         Calendula – wound-healing, referred to as “sun bride” in the Middle Ages

·         Dill – aromatic, protective against evil spirits

·         Lovage – spicy, aphrodisiac

·         Mugwort – an important women’s herb

·         Sage – aphrodisiac, used for incense (smudging)

·         Tansy – aromatic, used for expelling worms

·         Valerian – used to calm the nerves and promote sleep, aphrodisiac

·         Yarrow – bitter, cleansing, called the “eyebrow of Venus”

Most of these herbs are still widely used – either as natural remedies, for spell crafting, or simply in cooking, and with the advantage of time and science, we have learned more of their proven benefits. Arnica is a particular favorite in my house, for sprained back muscles and bruises; and our kitchen would not be complete without sage and dill. Calendula is a wonderful, powerfully soothing ingredient in popular salves and balms today, and I know many people who keep valerian capsules or tea on hand, for nights when they have difficulty sleeping.

The act of gathering herbs can be deeply calming, and creating your own herbal teas, tinctures, or powdered formulas can be truly satisfying. Also, incorporating herbs into ritual adds a distinct sense of the magical. Whether or not you can harvest your own herbs, you can purchase any of these from many good sources.

As August 1st approaches, I have to admit I already feel the first inner stirrings of fall. Perhaps it is a connection to the land that surrounds my home – a being-in-tune-with the roots, the soil, and the cycle of things. But while summer is still here, I plan on celebrating it in fullness. Appreciating all that the land has gifted us with, enjoying the grains, fruits, and vegetables of the season, and allowing myself to be imbued with the heat and sun of these days. 

 ~ Nellie Levine


Note:   Please always research any herb or herbal product fully before using, especially for herbs taken internally. For example, arnica is a terrific ingredient in topical rubs for muscle soreness, but can be toxic when taken internally.

You can find out more about Nellie and her wonderful photography on Cargoh.


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1 comment:

  1. I always get that first feeling of anticipation for the coming fall at the beginning of August. Plants are yielding their crop, and the shadows are beginning to grow darker and longer.

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