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How to Celebrate Lúnasa in Appalachia

1 August


Blackberries ripen in the Graveyard Fields of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Blackberries ripen in the Graveyard Fields of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

First Fruits


From this date until the official start of fall, the intense heat of summer finally starts to lift away. Lughnasadh, also spelled Lughnasa or Lúnasa in modern Gaelic, falls on the halfway point between the Summer Solstice and the Autumn Equinox. It also marks the first harvest festival of the season, as emerald hues begin to fade and plants begin to bear seeds and fruit.



A grassy meadow goes to seed in Craggy Gardens.
A grassy meadow goes to seed in Craggy Gardens.

Mythology and folklore


As revealed by the name of the holiday, Lughnasadh honors the Celtic deity Lugus—who the Irish call Lugh, and the Welsh call Lleu Llaw Gyffes. When the Romans invaded Gaul and Britain, they sought to assimilate the local people by equating their chief deity with the Roman god Mercury.


In the Orphic tradition of Ancient Greece, community members offered the First Fruits of the season to the goddess Persephone and her mother, Demeter. Also named Kore, Persephone embodies the bountiful harvest while her mother embodies all vegetative life.



Mountain fog shrouds the forest in Craggy Gardens.
Mountain fog shrouds the forest in Craggy Gardens.

Pagan traditions


As the sheaths of grain turn amber, farmers ready for harvest. People have long crafted intricate artworks from these fibrous stalks called corn dollies. Typically made of wheat, not maize, corn dollies exhibit a kind of folk magick through interwoven patterns. Native Americans also developed their own distinct varieties of corn dolls from dried husks of maize made in the shape of a human figure.


Back across the Altantic Ocean, this holiday also traditionally coincides with athletic games, matchmaking, and summer festivals. On the last Sunday of July, people in Ireland ascend the holy mountain Croagh Patrick on the west coast of the island. A little further south, the town of Killorglin maintains the oldest fair on the island in August. On the first day of three, community members climb the mountains and bring back down a wild goat to crown as king. On the third day, they release him.


During the medieval era, Christian churches aligned Pagan Lughnasadh celebrations with the holiday Lammas (from Loaf Mass).



Sunflowers bloom in the North Carolina Arboretum, Asheville.
Sunflowers bloom in the North Carolina Arboretum, Asheville.

Foreshadowings of Autumn


Global warming takes a heavier toll every year. Heat waves spread and linger, and the ever-present haze of wildfire smoke permeates every corner of the airy realm. As the night grows longer and longer, signs of change begin to emerge. Tired foliage turns to crimson reds and pallid yellows. Bears prowl the hedges, sniffing out ripened berries. Fields of corn and wheat shine with the gold of the Sun. Apples and pears begin to swell and blush, as the crisp winds of autumn make their way down the mountains.





Gods, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

courage to change the things I can,

and the wisdom to know the difference






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