Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Lughnasadh, Handfastings and Bilberry Vodka

Lughnasadh, the traditional Gaelic harvest festival begins today. Originally begun by the mythic sun god Lugh as a funeral feast with sporting competitions in commemoration of his foster-mother, Tailtiu, who cleared the plains of Ireland and made them suitable for planting but later died of exhaustion.

It is a festival with tests of strength and endurance, the eating of special (fertile) cakes and of course drinking. Bonfires are lit (in the past the ashes from these fires were used to bless the fields) and the hills are scoured for wild bilberries that are used to make wine.


My favorite tradition of Lughnasadh is the handfastings, a somewhat trial marriage contract generally lasting a year and a day. When the year is over both parties have the option to renew with a formal marriage or simply walk away with no hard feelings.

Folklorist Máire MacNeill writes in her book The Festival of Lughnasa:

A solemn cutting of the first of the corn of which an offering would be made to the deity by bringing it up to a high place and burying it; a meal of the new food and of bilberries of which everyone must partake; a sacrifice of a sacred bull, a feast of its flesh, with some ceremony involving its hide, and its replacement by a young bull; a ritual dance-play perhaps telling of a struggle for a goddess and a ritual fight; an installation of a head on top of the hill and a triumphing over it by an actor impersonating Lugh; another play representing the confinement by Lugh of the monster blight or famine; a three-day celebration presided over by the brilliant young god or his human representative. Finally, a ceremony indicating that the interregnum was over, and the chief god in his right place again.

The Historical Inebriant: Jewel of Russia Bilberry
                                                        Infused Vodka

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