August can be tough in Maryland. The high heat and lack of rain (in some years) means that backyard gardeners like me often struggle to keep our vegetable and fruit beds happy. Air conditioners work overtime, and tempers can be a bit more volatile. When I’m nearing a high frustration point with the umpteenth 90-degree day in a row, it helps me to reflect on the season we’re in: Lughnasadh Season.
Lughnasadh is one of the eight High Holidays of the Wheel of the Year followed by most pagans — people who practice earth-centered spirituality. If you visualize the year as a wheel, there are points that mark transitions on it. Two of the points are solstices — the longest day of the year, which occurred in June, and the shortest day of the year in December. The other two points are equinoxes, times when night and day are of equal length. The solstices and equinoxes are sometimes referred to as “quarters,” since that’s how they divide up the year. In between those four points are cross-quarters: days that mark the midway point between a solstice and the next equinox. Lughnasadh is one of those points. We are halfway between the summer solstice and the autumnal equinox; fall is on the horizon.
The word Lughnasadh comes to us from Irish mythology. It is a reference to Lugh Lámfada, the Irish god of skill. The holiday is a celebration of the miracle of the harvest and the abundance of food. This holiday is also sometimes called the Feast of First Fruits. We are experiencing the fruitfulness of our spring planting and summer tending. For me, Lughnasadh is found through the senses as much as through the mythology. Rooting deep into the cycles of the natural world and finding the beauty and meaning in them helps me stay centered.
I see Lughnasadh in the sunlight. It’s so subtle, but the later part of the day begins to take on more of a golden glow as we head into late summer. I see Lughnasadh as I drive through the county. The corn is high and some of the fields are already cleared. The heat has been baking the land, and there’s gold and brown now, as well as the green we saw in midsummer.
I see Lughnasadh at the farmers market. I look forward to the sweet corn every year, and it’s here now. The lettuces and tender greens from spring are less common, but there’s delicious zucchini, green beans of every color imaginable, beautiful berries and the first of the melons.
I feel Lughnasadh in my body, in the way I wear lighter clothing and drink more water. I feel Lughnasadh when the sun is strong, and even a little time outside makes me sweat. I feel it as the first autumn events appear on my calendar. I feel the sweet savoring of that which is temporary. I know the cool weather will come again, and sooner than I realize. I feel how precious this time is to me.
I feel Lughnasadh in my heart. The warmth of late summer echoes the warmth in my spirit when I visit my friends. I feel it in the laughter of the children as they play in the swimming pool. I feel it in the summer concerts and cookouts. I feel Lughnasadh in the abundance of connections around me. Winter was so hard and lonely. This harvest overflows with love and friendship.
There are so many wonderful ways to celebrate this season of peak heat. I like to go to all the fairs and carnivals nearby. It’s fun to see the different crafts and animals. The little lambs, piglets and calves that the 4-H kids adopted in spring are getting big, and it’s amazing to see how far they’ve come. Plus fair food, of course. Anywhere there are funnel cakes seems like a great place to be.
Most of all, I like to honor Lughnasadh with a gratitude practice. Every day until the Autumnal Equinox, I select one thing I am grateful for. I reflect on that gratitude and make a post on social media about it. Celebrating the harvest and giving thanks doesn’t just apply to food; I honor the connections and blessings in my life that I sometimes take for granted. Even on the hardest days, I can find something to be grateful for.
I hope that as you travel through this season, you find hidden blessings and moments of deep gratitude along the way. And funnel cake, of course.
Irene Glasse is president of the Frederick Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans, offering events, rituals, classes and workshops to a large, vibrant community, including Frederick’s Pagan Pride Day. She is a pagan religious professional and serves communities throughout the Mid-Atlantic region as a minister, teacher, musician and community organizer.