The Meaning of Lughnasadh for Neo-Pagans

In Belarus, people celebrate the summer festival of Kupula by placing candle offerings into the river. Although practiced by
In Belarus, people celebrate the summer festival of Kupula by placing candle offerings into the river. Although practiced by Orthodox Christians, the festival is inspired by ancient pagan rituals.

On August 1st, Neo-Pagans in the Northern Hemisphere celebrate High Summer, also called “Lughnasadh” (after an ancient Irish festival) and “First Fruits”, because this is the time when many fruits and vegetables begin to ripen. 

Love and Death in the Summertime

High Summer is the time when many Neo-Pagans celebrate the love of the Goddess and the God who represent the powers of nature. The heat of the sun is the reflection of the passion of the Neo-Pagan God and Goddess.  This is the day when the heat of their passion grows so hot that the God is actually consumed by its flames.  Since this is the middle of summer this is also the beginning of the end of summer.  This is the moment when the flower of summer is blossoming at its fullest, and tomorrow it will begin to wilt.

As we are always changing, so are the Neo-Pagan God and Goddess.  All through the year, since he was born at the winter solstice, the Neo-Pagan God has been maturing, until he reached the peak of his strength at the summer solstice in June.  But everything and everyone that fulfills its purpose must change. The Neo-Pagan God embraces the Goddess in love, the love that moves the world.  It is a love that is so complete that all dissolves into ecstasy and death. 

The Neo-Pagan God, sometimes called the “Oak King”, dies in order to be born again at the winter solstice, and to make room for his dark twin aspect, the Holly King, who will begin to grow stronger and stronger as winter approaches.  At the same time, the Goddess begins her transformation from the Summer Queen to the Queen of the Harvest.

The Fires of Summer

People all over the world burn fires at High Summer, which may seem odd given the heat of the season.  Neo-Pagans sometimes build what is called a “Wicker Man”.  They put together sticks and wood to make it look like a person and decorate it with flowers and green leaves.  Then they burn the wooden figure to represent the sadness of loss and the joy of transformation. In our family, we make wreaths of flowers together, while we eat juicy ripe fruit, and then we burn the wreaths, while reciting these words:

How hard a mistress is Nature,

When with every breath

She births the vagrant summer

But swifter woos his death.

The fires which Neo-Pagans light today symbolize the beginning of the death of the Oak King.  While our fires will go out quickly, the fire of Summer will end more slowly.  Summer will not end and the Oak King will not die until the fall equinox, which happens on September 22nd this year, the day when the light and the dark are equal.  At the fall equinox, the Neo-Pagan God, in his aspect as the Lord of the Harvest, will begin his journey to the Underworld where he will ultimately find rebirth at the winter solstice.

Letting Go of Summer

High Summer is like fruit which has ripened to the point where it is juiciest and tastiest, but on the next day it will begin to rot.  The meaning of this day is that pleasure is fleeting.  We must enjoy life while we can, knowing that it cannot last forever.  When we see a beautiful flower blossom, we must either leave it, knowing we may never see it again, or pick it, knowing that in doing so we also kill it.

We do not live in an unchanging world. We live in the living, dying, growing, and fading realm of the earth.  Whenever something is completed, we must let it go.  Because the things we love don’t last forever, we love them all the more while they are here.  But letting go of things and people we love is never easy.  High Summer is a time to practice letting go of what is completed and done—whether it is an old possession, a flower, or a part of ourselves.

Letting go of something doesn’t mean just getting rid of it.  When we let go, we allow it to become something different.  A child who lets go of an old toy lets that toy be transformed into a new toy for another child.  A mother or father who lets go of a child that’s grown up lets that child become a man or woman.  We can be both sad for the loss, and happy for the transformation that has taken place.  High Summer is a time to honor both the joy and the sorrow.

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