A Celtic Lughnasad Module
This is intended to be performed as part of a standard ADF ritual, with those parts not mentioned performed according to the grove's usual traditions. This ritual was originally performed with more than one grove in attendance; the chieftains mentioned are the senior druids. Large gatherings are traditional at Lughnasad, so it is nice if more than one grove can get together for the ritual. It is easy enough to adapt this for a single grove, though. The ritual is meant to be performed in a clearing in the woods, or at least in an open space that verges on woods or another wild area. During the ritual, a drummer keeps a heart beat rhythm throughout, except where noted.
This ritual is based almost entirely on the one suggested by Maire MacNeill (p. 426). Of course, hers involves an entire village, takes about a week, requires an agricultural community, and includes the sacrifice of an actual bull. Some adaptation was necessary.
This ritual is a continuation of the Beltane ritual, in which the Outsiders are offered to so they will allow us to build our fields in their midst. At Beltane we approach them in fear; we are so young, and they are so old. By Lughnasad, we have earned the right to approach them as equals. As equals, we can form a treaty with them, with exchange of gifts and the establishment of a reciprocal relationship between us.
According to MacNeil, the Lughnasad ritual involved a replacement of Crom Dubh, the original ruler, with Lugh. I combined this with some Vedic concepts, in which Varuna, originally one of the asuras, or Outsiders, becomes promoted to the status of celestial deity, where he joins with Mitra to maintain law and order. Crom Dubh is a chthonic figure, and Lugh has many parallels with Mitra. There is a possibility that the Crom Dubh/Lugh interaction may be similar to that of Mitra-Varuna.
The ritual identifies Crom Dubh with the bull that is sacrificed. Through a triple death, he is elevated to the status of celestial deity. Thus the treaty is established not only by the exchange of food, but also through the promotion of one of the chthonic deities to the status of a celestial one.
- A loaf of bread baked in the shape of a bull.
- A board to put it on, and a cloth to cover it with.
- A bowl of barley.
- A spear.
- A bowl of wild food, preferably berries picked in the wild area
around the ritual space.
- A low table or board on which to place items (called the "clar,"
"table" in Irish Gaelic.)
- Two Priests (D1 and D2 -- D2 is intended to be the Senior Druid
of the hosting grove.)
- Any other Senior Druids present
- A child of the grove
After the space is esablished, the fire lit, and the kindred called to, the ritual continues with the offerings to the Outsiders.
The Diviner goes to the west of the fire and picks up the bull bread, which is on a board and covered.
D1: Since Beltane we have worked,
we have cleared and we have planted,
taking our fields from the unmarked lands,
measuring our world out in their midst
and in the midst as well of those who dwell there,
those who dwell beyond the borders,
those who dwell in the surrounding lands.
D2: At Beltane we made offering,
to assuage the Outsiders
to appease them and please them
to win from them their grudging consent
for us to form our island world,
our homes, our culture, our people, our fields,
within the great surrounding sea.
Diviner: All this was done on the land that had lain untilled.
All this was done with the consent of that land's ruler.
All this was done under the gaze of Crom Dubh!
Diviner removes the cloth and lifts the bull up. All sing:
Black bull, crooked one,
ruler of the dark land,
Black bull, crooked one,
ruler of the depths.
He brings the bull deosil around the circle. As he passes each person, they lift their arms in honor to him. When he has completed the round, he puts the bull again to the west of the fire and returns to his place. The others put their arms down as he puts the bull down. D1 picks up barley and sprinkles it over the bull while D2 says:
D2: The fertilizing rain that falls from above
honors the Old Bull,
marks him out,
reestablishes his place as head of the herd.
D1 steps back to his place and says:
D1: If the High King is Crom Dubh,
Who is the king of our tribe?
Who is the champion of our people?
Whose strong arm has enabled our crops to grow?
The champion holds up the spear and says: Lugh is our champion!
The others repeat this. They sing:
Strong hand, bright one,
Spear tip, Lugh is our champion;
Long hand, skilled one,
Young bull, Lugh is our champion!
The champion goes deosil around the circle with the spear held high. As each person is passed, they lift their arms in honor to him. After the circuit is competed, the champion brings the spear to D1 and holds it in front of him. The others lower their arms. D1 says:
D1: Your golden spear tips in the radiant fields
proclaim the work of your skillful hand.
He takes the spear from the champion, who returns to her place. D1 takes a step forward.
D2: Through your skill and courage you have brought us to harvest.
D1 takes a step forward.
D2: Through the power that shines from your head you have
defeated all that opposed you.
D1 takes a step forward.
D2: By the might that is found in your unloosed spear
you have earned the high kingship for yourself.
D1 cuts the head of the bull off with the spear. The drumbeat stops with a bang. He removes the head and places it on the east side of the fire. The drumbeat starts again. He then returns to his place and hands the spear to D2, saying:
D1: Chief above us, this spear is entrusted to your keeping.
D2 holds the spear up and says:
D2: Strong in Lugh, we have proven our right to exist,
before the ones who dwell in the land about us.
By bringing our plantings to the point of harvest,
we have reached a point of equality with them.
She lowers the spear and says:
D2: Diviner of the tribe,
collect the first fruits.
The Diviner goes about the nemeton with the bowl and gathers the first fruits from the people. D2 says:
D2: Chieftains of the tribe,
we go together to the land outside,
we go in strength, as equals to equals.
We go with gifts, to establish the bonds.
The champion goes to her and is given the spear back. D2 picks up the board with the bull's body and goes to the gateway with the champion before her. At the gateway, the diviner joins in between the champion and D2, and the other senior druids present join in behind D2. The diviner gives one of them the first fruits. The resultant order is champion (with spear), diviner (with the cloth from the bull), D2 (with bull), and the other chieftains (one with the first fruits). As they pass out of the nemeton, the drumming stops. They go to the edge of the woods, where a hole has been dug earlier.
The spear, the first fruits, and the bull are raised up.
The Diviner says:
Diviner: To those beyond the borders
whether gods or goddesses
whether spirits or dead
to those who were before us
and dwell in the darkness of our world's shadow
We come to you with offering.
(The following speech is split up amongst the chieftains present.)
D2: Lugh has come to you, the new high king.
He has vanquished Crom Dubh, whose lordship you acknowledged.
The Old Bull is dead; recognize as your new high king the Young Bull,
who comes to you with shining head high.
We come to you with our well-earned harvest
seeking in exchange a treaty peace.
Although not one people, may our tribes be at peace.
D2 goes to the hole, accompanied by the champion and the Diviner. She puts the body of the bull into the hole, saying:
D2: Return, return, return to the unplowed field
of which you are rightly lord.
The chieftain then gives her the first fruits, and she puts them on top of the bull, saying:
D2: Receive your rightful share.
She then fills in the dirt over the offerings, saying:
D2: Honored be the mounds of those who dwell beneath.
They rejoin the others, and D2 says:
D2: Outsiders, and Spirits of the Land,
you see here the high king and the chieftains of the people.
We have offered to you as the law requires.
The Diviner goes to beside the mound, where there the bowl of wild food has been placed before the ritual. He brings it to D2 and says:
Diviner: The Outsiders and Nature Spirits know the law as well:
A gift for a gift, and a bond of hospitality with them.
A treaty peace is established.
D2 takes the wild food and says:
D2: A gift has been offered, a gift has been accepted.
A gift has been offered, a gift has been accepted.
The peace is established between us indeed.
All except the Diviner returns to the nemeton. The Diviner sits at or on the mound, and covers himself with the cloth from the bull and divines. The order of the others this time is D2 (with wild food), chieftains, and champion (with spear). At the gateway they stop and a child of the grove comes to the gate and says:
Child: Have the Children of Danu made peace with the Land Dwellers?
D2: With gift and gift, a hospitable peace is established.
They enter the nemeton and the drumming resumes. The wild food is passed around. When all have eaten some of it, the rest is placed on the clar. It must be consumed at the feast afterwards.
After all the praise offerings are made, D1 goes to the champion, who gives him the spear. He takes the spear and transfixes the bull's head with it. He holds the head high for a moment, pointing it towards the top of the bile. He then puts it into the fire and says:
D1: Beheaded, buried, and burnt.
Crom Dubh, you have well undergone the necessary sacrifices.
Go, now, to the celestial realms, to the land of sky,
where dwell the shining ones.
Take your place amongst them,
as ruler beside Lugh.
D2: Has the Diviner received the omens?
The Diviner removes the cloth and returns to the nemeton. He stands at its edge and gives the omens.
The ritual then continues in the normal way.
MacNeill, Maire. The Festival of Lughnasa. Oxford: The Oxford University Press, 1962.
Rig Veda. ed. and tr. O'Flaherty, Wendy Doniger. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin Books, 1981.