Dancing at Lughnasa

Dancing at Lughnasa

Dancing at Lughnasa

If you’re looking for a commentary on the Meryl Streep and Michael Gambon movie, sorry.? This is about the Gaelic fire festival, Lughnasa.? Notice it is Gaelic, not Celtic.? Although the Gaels are Celts, not all Celts are Gaels.? The Gaels are from Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man.? They had four fire festivals, equidistantly spaced though the year.? There was Samhain (the new year), Imbolc, Beltane and Lughnasa, which is July 31-August 1.? Lugnasa is the halfway-point between the summer solstice and the autumn equinox.? So get your firebrands together and light up.? Then dance around the flames.? But what’s it all mean?

Lugh (or Lu) was the Celtic god to end all gods.? When he tried to join the Tuatha D? Danann (the pantheon of Irish gods), he had no special skill that other gods did not already represent.? However, no other god had the mastery of all the different skills that he had.? On that basis,

Lugh

Lugh

he was admitted and led them to victory in the Battle of Magh Tuireadh.? Lughnasa is the only one of the fire festivals named after a god.? Interesting enough, some consider him the archetype of Christ, master of all skills.

So, what does this have to do with July 31-August 1?? Well, there were the Tailteann Games,supposedly inaugurated by Lugh as funerary games for his foster mother Tailtiu.? If you know anything about Irish wakes (think Finnegan’s wake), they do like to make a grand send-off to the dead.? These games started probably in the 7th century AD (unless you’re a neo-pagan, wiccan or Celtic reconstructionist, who claim a far earlier date) and were squashed by those medieval spoil-sports, the Normans, in the 1100’s.? According to Wikipedia?(the ultimate source on everything), they included the long jump, high jump, running, hurling, spear throwing, boxing, sword fighting, archery, wrestling, swimming and chariot and horse racing.? For those less athletically inclined, there were competitions in singing, dancing, story-telling and crafts.? In about the 1300’s these revived as?Taillten Fairs.

Handfasting

Handfasting

There is one other interesting tradition called “handfasting.”? This was sort of a trial marriage, where the couple pledged themselves to each other for a year and their hands were symbolically bound together.? If things worked out okay, the agreement could be extended.? Today, many couples observe that tradition without the extension.? It’s called “divorce” and makes many attorneys wealthy.? I’m sure they dance when the modern “handfasting” ends and they collect their payments.

So, if you don’t live in a fire-danger forest region like I do, light your bonfire and dance around as you jump up and down, throw spears, race horses and shoot arrows.? But be careful about handfasting.? It could be very costly in our modern society.

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