LUGHNASADH © Hamish Burgess 2011.
Signed and numbered Limited Edition Giclée print of 300 on water-colour paper. Approx 12 x 12 inches, plus a white unprinted border.
Original Celtic and folk art by Hamish Burgess, a piece for the cover of The Celtic Connection newspaper in Vancouver BC and Seattle, the July/August 2011 issue. The last of a series of four seasonal works.
The great wheel of the year turns again on the evening of July 31st, with the Celtic festival of LUGHNASADH, as the last in the cycle of the four seasons of the Celtic world. Here the Sun Wheel, with a maze of ‘key pattern’ based on ancient Pictish art, frames scenes from ages old tradition.
This feast marks the beginning of Autumn or Fall, and the harvesting season – crops were harvested in August, fruit in September, and meat in October. The ‘first fruits’ of the harvest were crops, and are shown (left) with the cornucopia of breads, grain and fruits, accompanied by a honey bee.
The Christian church also started a feast day, where loaves of bread were baked from the first of the harvested grain, and placed on the church altar on the first Sunday of August – it was called Lammas, from an Anglo-Saxon word ‘hlaef-mas’, which meant ‘loaf mass’.
Keeping a watchful eye on her land is Macha, one side of the Triple Goddess, in the form of a crow. Top left is a traditional ‘corn dolly‘ – the spirit of the cut corn is kept in her winter home until ploughed into the first furrow of the next season.
Lughnasadh is named after the Celtic Sun God Lugh (shown right), ‘The Bright or Shining One’, God of the Harvest, who also presides over the arts and sciences, as he was called Lugh the Il-Dana, ‘Master of All Crafts’, or Samildanach, ‘he of the many gifts’. He was expert smith, craftsman, harpist, poet, sorcerer, physician, chess player and warrior. Also called Lugh Lámhfhada ‘the long-handed’, as tradition has it that he carried the magical Spear of Goirias (the Gáe Assail or Lightning Spear), one of the four treasures of the Tuatha De Danann – shown here flaming in Lugh’s hand, and channelling lightning. Thunderstorms provided respite from the fierce summer heat that the threatened crops under Lugh’s care. Celtic tribes across Europe revered this deity also known as Lug, Lugaidh, Lleu, Llew Llaw Gyffes ‘of the skillful hand’, and Llud – many places and tribes bear a version of his name. Lunasa in modern Irish is the name of the month of August.
In Irish history, Lugh’s mother was Eithne, Fomorian daughter of Balor, and his father was Cian of the Tuatha De Danann. In legend it was foretold that he would kill his grandfather, so afraid for his life his mother fostered him to Tailtiu, Queen of the Fir Bolg, and later to the Sidh of the Sea God, Manannán mac Lir, on the Isle of Man. He became a famous warrior of the Tuatha De Danann, and fulfilling the prophecy he killed his grandfather, Balor of the Evil Eye, at the Battle of Moy Tura, winning the day for the Tuatha.
Lughnasadh has been translated as ‘the binding duty of Lugh’, referring to funeral games, Áenach Tailteann (shown center), that he held in honour of his foster-mother Tailtiu, a goddess of agriculture (shown bottom right). It is said that she died from exhaustion after clearing a great forest so that the land could be cultivated, and on her death-bed she told the men of Ireland to hold funeral games in her honour – she prophesied that as long as they were held, Ireland would not be without song. Here she plays an ancient harp, the music is actually the opening of “She Moves Thro’ The Fair”.
It is said that she is buried under the hill where her Tailteann Games were held for nearly 2000 years until the 12th century. The line of chariots and carts (shown bottom) approaching the Games was said to stretch for miles. Shown among the bright tents are folks dancing to a drummer and horn player, with the Games outside – spear throwing, sword-fighting and tug-of-war just some of the athletics practised. From this tradition come the come many summer fairs, festivals and highland games that are held worldwide at this time of year.
The Tailteann Games now lend their name to the village of Teltown, near the Blackwater River (tributary of the River Boyne) not far from Kells, in County Meath. It became famous for ‘Teltown marriages’, where couples at the fair held hands through a hole in a wooden gate, without seeing who their new partner was, and were married for a year and a day. If the trial union failed, they could stand back to back at the next fair and walk away from each other, legally ending the hand fasting. The practise continued locally until the 16th century. Shown (right) by three standing stones, are two small figures at a hand-fasting ceremony officiated by a druid.
Lughnasadh has had another translation – the ‘wedding of Lugh’ – he was said to have married the beautiful Goddess Eriu, the sovereignty of Ireland. The ancient Celtic sun kings were expected to ceremoniously marry the land, and look after her and the people.
Lugh’s foster father, the Celtic Sea God, Manannán mac Lir, watches over the scene from the waves (bottom left), wearing his ‘cloak of mists’, and on his horse ‘Enbarr of the Flowing Mane’, who could travel over water as easily as on land. He gave Lugh (shown right) the use of his sword Freagartach, ‘The Answerer’, and his corrbolg or ‘crane bag’ filled with magical treasures.
Also shown (bottom) are horse races through water, another old tradition associated with the time of year, likely from ancient cleansing rites, and related to the summer months of the Celtic horse goddess Epona.
The Sunday nearest Lughnasadh is called Bilberry Sunday, when folks gathered the black berries, for garlands or bracelets, or to take home to eat. The tradition continues to this day. Top right shows bilberries and flowers linked to Lughnasadh – sunflowers, poppies, dandelions and marigolds.
Also shown are of course the elements of Earth, Air, Fire and Water.
All prints signed and numbered by the artist in pencil at the bottom.
The print you receive will not have the artist’s name across it, as in the photo. That is for internet viewing only.
Aloha and mahalo for looking.