(Note, this was originally included as a preamble to the Stone Creed Grove Lughnassadh ritual published in Oak Leaves 7.)
Lughnassadh—the night before August 2 or the point between Summer Solstice and Fall Equinox or full moon of August. Lughnassadh marks the fourth and last of the Celtic year's great feasts. It marks the beginning of the time of ripening, the last moment of rest before Summer's balm turns to fall's labor. In Erin it marked the year's greatest gatherings and fairs, when every clan met in peace.
Agriculturally, Lughnassadh is the time of ripening fruits and nuts, when the land begins to give forth its bounty. The labor of planting and tending young shoots is ended. The labor of harvesting and laying up lies ahead. The corn stands high, nearly ripe, but prey to storm and crushing hail. With the crops in fate's hands the folk gather to take their ease and pray for a good harvest. Lughnassadh translates as the "wedding feast of Lugh". The young hero is wed to the Holy Land to protect it from the perils of the storm until the harvest.
Lughnassadh's mythic patterns center around the young god Lugh, whose name means "light". He is an example of the Celtic motif of the young son, born magically of a union between the gods and Giants. He is welcome into the Hall of the gods because he is the master of every skill, and he is the slayer of Balor, the sorcerer king of the Fomors, opponents of the gods. He wields the Spear of Victory, that never misses its mark. Lugh is a newcomer to the family of the god/desses and become champion of the gods, perhaps replacing Ogham, and the Tanist-heir apparent—replacing Angus Og as a protector and defender against ill he in invoked in this season to protect the growing crops from storm or blight.
The modern holy day Lughnassadh is perhaps the most agricultural of the four Celtic feasts. It is celebrated as First Harvest, and offerings are made to protect the crops. It is a time for handfastings and contracts, as the god of Light is wed to the goddess of the Land. Loaves of bread are blessed and offered, along with beer, and the symbol of the Spear of Victory is honored.