I have been a Pagan for many years — 13 years, at this time — but I believe that this was the first year I performed a full ritual in recognition of the August Cross-Quarter Festival. Sure, I’ve baked loaves of bread and celebrated the peak of summer, but I’ve never felt much of a connection with the early harvest season until this year, and so never had interest in celebrating Lammas-tide with a formal ritual until now.
I predominantly work with and revere the Gaelic pantheon, so while I had never honored Lugh before, I decided to theme this Cross-Quarter Day ritual around the festival of Lughnasadh. Lughnasadh was a social festival, notably including games and trading due to the Tailteann Games, but I was required by my current circumstances to perform a solitary ritual, though I was able to feast afterward with my family, so I did my best to create a ritual using the roots of Lughnasadh based on the myth of Lugh and Tailtiu that honored the many-talented god and his foster-mother, the Queen of the Fir Bolg.
The day before, my husband, son, and I picked wild blackberries under the hot summer sun, leaving offerings of water (and probably blood — blackberry bushes are not to be underestimated!) and giving prayers of thanks for the bushes that provided us their deliciously ripe fruits. The next day, after making a supplication to Brigid at her shrine in my kitchen and turning on some traditional Irish jigs and reels, I prepared a feast using foods that are seasonal here in the Pacific Northwest during the time of the First Harvest: beans, stone fruits, apples, berries. I also prepared two large loaves of braided bread, one as an offering to Lugh and Tailtiu, the other to be blessed by the Kindreds. It was a busy day spent in the kitchen following a long day out exploring, but it was all extremely enjoyable and the work well worth it when the time came to perform my Lughnasadh ritual.
The ritual was one of thanksgiving for the bounty of the season and for the bounty in terms of health and sufficient wealth enjoyed by my family, recognition of Lugh and Tialtiu’s myth and offerings to them both, and propitiation to the Cailleach, so that she doesn’t cause winter to arrive before the harvest is complete.
The Earth Mother was recognized as Danu; Aengus mac Og, whom I regard as a Patron, was asked to provide inspiration; Manannan mac Lir served as the Gatekeeper; and the Kindreds were shown their due honor and sacrificed to with gifts of blackberry brambles, homemade apple pie and blackberry sauce, and whiskey. Next, I told the myth of Lugh and Tialtiu, and of the promise he made to her on her deathbed after she had worked herself to exhaustion harvesting the fields, to maintain feasts and games in her memory. I invited Lugh and Tialtiu as the guests of honor, offering them each a half of one of the loaves I’d baked “using the knowledge you [Lugh] have bestowed upon us” and “the bountiful gifts you [Tialtiu] have provided us,” “that the harvest may flourish” and “the Earth may be fertile this year, and forever.” I hadn’t yet taken the omen, but I got “good vibes” and the feeling that my offerings so far had been well-received.
With the part I could play in Lugh’s promise fulfilled, I turned my attention to the Cailleach. I related the tradition of the Cailleach corn-sheaf doll being tossed from field to field until the last farmer to harvest his crops was left with taking the Cailleach in for the winter, then proceeded to call to and make offering to her. I was unsure where to fit this offering in to the structure of my rite, and in hindsight I believe it should have been placed within the offering for the Outdwellers, if not excluded entirely, but at the time, making this supplication to the Cailleach and doing so at this point made the most sense to me. I offered her a large glass of Scottish whiskey and asked that she join me by my fire, accept my offering, and look kindly upon my rite, with the agreement that she wait to give the Earth its winter kiss until her time (Samhain to Beltaine, based more on personal gnosis than on any research I’ve done). When my little ode to and request from her was finished, she cackled with incredible laughter — not cruel or mocking laughter, just the knowing laughter of the wise when confronted with the comparatively ignorant and inexperienced.
In hindsight, I realize that such matters ought to be left to the gods and the other powers-that-be, particularly when our traditional weather patterns have gone so awry due to climate change. It’s not early snow we risk here at the moment — it’s not having enough rain before the snows arrive! Her laughter was an important lesson for me, reminding me of how much I have yet to learn. Engaging in the cycle of the seasons through magic and ritual is one thing, but attempting to use magic when actions out in the world would better accomplish the objective (in this case, greater conservationist efforts to maintain the proper course of the seasons) is another.
A final offering was made, and the omen drawn using Tarot: the Eight of Coins and the Sun. This was an auspicious omen to receive at a harvest festival. The meanings of harvests, diligence, and abundance in the Eights and the Suit of Coins converge on the Eight of Coins, and in the Sun we have joy, contentment, victory, and the fulfillment of the Great Work. The meaning I gleaned was that if I, and my family as a whole, worked our butts off for the foreseeable future, it wouldn’t be in vain: we should apply ourselves confident in the knowledge that we would be drawing ourselves several steps closer to accomplishing our purposes. This is not a time of rest, the Kindreds were telling us, this is a time to apply ourselves, and if we do, we will reap great rewards.
After receiving the blessing, which I directed into blackberry cider (which I consumed after hallowing), water (primarily for my son’s benefit), and the second loaf, and affirming the blessing, I performed my own additional working, divination using a First Harvest-themed Tarot spread I created for the rite, to gain insight into the events of the harvest season (through Samhain), such as the lessons that I need to learn in the coming months. This, too, was very insightful and auspicious, assuming, again, that I can “do the work,” which has been a common theme in omens I’ve received since Imbolc.
Following this, I bid farewell to the Kindreds, beginning with the Cailleach, who, following my speech to her, again connected with me directly, this time whisking me away momentarily and showing me a vision. The Gates were closed with Manannan’s help, Aengus and the Earth Mother thanked, and the rite ended. The blessed loaf and waters in hand, I made my merry way to our dining table where my family and I enjoyed a wonderful First Harvest feast, confident in the knowledge that we had nurtured our connection to the gods and supported their work; that “in remembrance, we strengthen their powers. In honor, we balance the worlds. In love, we bring peace and keep the Old Ways alive and present.”