Category: Lughnasadh

The Origins of Freyfaxi

Over the past twelve months I have vigorously researched and studied the eight celebrations that make up the pagan Wheel of the Year and now that I have come full circle, my path is taking me in a completely different direction. So to mark this new change I have decided to walk through the next twelve months looking at the changing seasons from a Heathen perspective, starting with Freyfaxi.

Frefaxi is the modern name given to the festival that falls at the beginning of the first harvest in northern Europe. The timing of this harvest varied for our ancestors depending on the different climates of each region, but it would have been sometime during the month of August.

Sadly, the ancient Norse name for this festival has long been lost, but we do understand enough to know that it was very much like Lughnasadh, Lammas and Hlaefmaesse. It was a time of gratitude and prayer for the harvest of the current year and the harvest of the year to follow.

At this time the Autumn winds brought the Vikings back to their homelands from their Summer raids abroad. Swapping their swords for scythes they would help their families harvest the crops and store them safely away for the colder months ahead.

Just like in Britain, the month of August was a time of fairs, however, the sport of horse fighting was not. It is believed by some that horse fighting was most likely some kind of ancient ritual that was seen as a sport as well. Horse fighting and what it entails can be found in several of the Sagas. Many carvings have been found in northern Europe depicting horse fighting scenes, with some of them showing sun like wheels as well. So quite possibly these fights symbolised the battle between life and death. The life giving harvest at its own expense.

The Icelandic Sagas as well as other old sources depict horses as extremely sacred creatures who were connected to the Norse gods. Even as far back as the Bronze Age, a prized horse’s behaviour was observed in a divinatory manner.

The origin of the name Freyfaxi comes from Hrafnkel’s Saga. In this saga Freyfaxi is a beautiful horse owned by a Freysgodi (a man dedicated to the fertility god Freyr). Freyfaxi can be broken down into two parts. Frey is the horse’s connection to the god Freyr and faxi means “eye catching mane”. The saga is a tragic story of oaths and how they should never be taken lightly. There is also mention of another horse called Freyfaxi in Vatnsdaela’s Saga.

There is clear evidence of a horse cult to Freyr having  existed in Norway (Thrandheim) in the tenth century and settlers in Iceland would have taken their faith with them too.

The Haggeby Stone discovered in Sweden is a rock carving that shows horses fighting and dates from 5th century C.E (image via odinsvolk.ca)

Other gods and goddesses that are honoured at harvest time are Sif, an earth goddess with long golden hair who has it cut off by the god Loki; a tale symbolising the harvest of the crops. Thor who brings rain and sun to the crops as well as protecting them from hail and lastly Nerthus, another earth goddess.

The Landvaettir, who are the guardian spirits of the land are also honoured at this time of year.

I hope you enjoyed this and that your interest will take you on to do your own research especially by reading the Icelandic Sagas.

Brightest blessings,

Hazel

xxx

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrating Lughnasadh

Lughnasadh is the celebration of Summer’s End and the harvesting of our efforts both on a physical level as well as a mental and emotional one. As the sun’s brightness continues to fade,  we are invited to celebrate our accomplishments so far, before going within to reflect and assess what this means and to ask ourselves where we go from here. We all have an opportunity to learn from our mistakes and to grow from them, preparing ourselves for the darker half of the year. So like the god of the harvest, ask yourself what sacrifices can you make now that will benefit you later on? And in what ways can you celebrate this turning point in your life?

This is a time to remember all of those people who are less fortunate than ourselves and to share our time or money with them. Baking a cake and gifting it to an elderly neighbour or offering to do some shopping for them are just two easy things we can do. Donating food to a food bank is also a great way to encourage the flow of abundance which is one of the core messages of Lughnasadh.

Gratitude is the other key message of Lughnasadh. We can show our gratitude by honouring our ancestors with offerings and remembrance. It is important to reflect on their hardships and sacrifices, especially at this time of year, which for their community was a matter of life or death; a concept that is impossible for us to grasp in this day and age of convenience.

Being mindful of where our food comes from and how it is grown and harvested helps us to seek out more ethical and natural choices when it comes to our grocery shopping and to appreciate the earth’s cycles that produce it for us.

To show our appreciation for our living kin, a family gathering could be organised or if this isn’t possible then a simple phone call to let someone you love know that you are thinking of them.

Baking your own bread, cakes or biscuits is wonderful to do no matter what time of year it is, but especially at Lughnasadh when you can offer up your hard work to deity, the land and to the creatures who live there. To make your baked goods even more special decorate them with sigils and herbs.

Go outside and enjoy the shift in the seasons. The mornings and evenings are cooler now, but there are still plenty more days of sunshine and listening to crickets.

Now is the time to gather seeds for next year’s planting. You could even make your own rattle with the larger seeds that you can then use for cleansing your home, your aura or use in ritual.

Start harvesting and drying herbs as well so that you will have what you need to make your own smudge sticks, skincare treatments, spells and remedies.

Crafting corn dollies is an ancient tradition that our ancestors did to honour the harvest. These are straightforward to make even without corn husks. You can use stalks of grass, twine, ribbon and flowers instead. There are many tutorials online that will inspire you.

And lastly how about finding a recipe for making your own cordial or lemonade? Perfect for that weekend family gathering.

Please share any ideas that you have for celebrating Lughnasadh. Do you have any plans yet? For me, gratitude will definitely be the centre point of my ritual this year. Even when things are tough, just remembering the smallest of blessings and being grateful for them can only allow us to receive the abundance that we deserve.

Brightest blessings,

Hazel

xxx

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Origins of Lughnasadh

Lughnasadh is the Irish festival that celebrates the beginning of the first harvest and honours the Celtic sun god Lugh, as well as his foster mother Tailtiu, who is an earth goddess. The word Lughnasadh is a combination of the name Lugh and the word nasadh meaning assembly. Its older Gaelic name is Bron Trogain which means sacrifice of the earth.  In Wales the day is known as Calan  Awst which originally was a Latin name. This festival is usually celebrated on 1st August and also goes by the name of Lammas which derives from the Anglo-Saxon hlaef mass, meaning loaf mass.

Some Pagans believe that the goddess is heavily pregnant at this time and that the bountiful mother mourns the death of the god as he sacrifices himself to the earth, with the cutting of the corn and in its place poppies grow symbolising his blood. The goddess knows that she will not be mourning him for long, for at Yule he will be reborn from her womb and the cycle will begin again.

Very similar to the Roman god Mercury, Lugh was known as a god of skill and craftsmanship. He was known as the many skilled god because he had countless abilities including healing, warfare, prophecy, music and poetry. One story tells that when Lugh realises that he is being refused entry to Tara he begins reeling off all of the great things that he can do, but to no avail.  The guard at the gates continues refusing him entry by saying, ” We’ve got someone here who can already do that”. Finally, an unwavering Lugh asks,” But do you have someone here that can do all of these things?”

According to Irish myth Lugh was the grandson of a Fomorian called Balor of the Evil Eye. The Fomorians were a terrible race of people that were enemies of the Tuatha de Danann. Balor was told a prophecy that he would one day be killed by his grandson. On hearing this he imprisoned his daughter Eithne inside a cave on Tory Island so that she could never have children.

However, Cian, a young man from the Tuatha de Danann who wanted Balor dead, managed to track down Eithne and he seduced her. When Cian was found out he was murdered and later when Eithne gave birth to three boys they were all thrown into the sea. Lugh was the only child to survive having been saved by a blacksmith who brought him up as his own son.

Many years later Lugh turned up at the court of Nuadhu, the king of the Tuatha de Danann. The king was so impressed with Lugh’s many skills that he abdicated, offering up his throne to Lugh, who then went into the battle of Moytura with his men and indeed killed Balor. This victory secured the country of Ireland ensuring its peace and prosperity.

The Book of Invasions, which chronicles the early history of Ireland tells us that Lugh became associated with the harvest after he had held a funeral feast and athletic games in honour of his foster mother Tailtiu.

Tailtiu, who’s name probably comes from Talantiu meaning “the great one of the earth”, once lived on the magical hill of Tara and was the daughter of a man called Firbolg the king of the Great Plain. She was said to have died of exhaustion after having cleared the forest of Breg so that her people could grow food and avoid starvation. It took her a whole month to create the plain of Oenach Taillten. It is believed that Tailltiu may have been an earth goddess who represented the harvest and the earth’s bounties.

The funeral games in her honour were called the Oenach Tailten and took place at Tailtin in what is now County Meath Ireland.  It is said that Tailtiu asked Lugh to hold these games every harvest so that each home would forever have corn and milk. These Olympic style games lasted several days and would have consisted of trading, marriage arrangements and contract signing. Trial marriages were also conducted here whereby young couples would join hands through a hole in a wooden door. These Teltown marriages that enacted the marriage of Lugh to the goddess Eire, after whom Ireland is named, would last a year and a day. After this time they could go on to marry or else go their separate ways with no further consequences. These customs stopped in the 12th century at the time of the Norman conquest.

The Celts being more than just one people had many gods and goddesses and most of them were attached to local landmarks. However, Lugh is one of the exceptions because he was honoured over a much wider area of Europe. There have been innumerable inscriptions and statues dedicated to Lugh found even as far away as Spain and Julius Caesar remarked how important this god was to the Celts. There was also a Lugus god cult in Lyon France (Lugundum) and the Welsh god Llew Llaw Gyffes is thought to be connected to Lugh, as well as there being a link to the Arthurian knight Sir Lancelot. There are other towns linked to Lugh also; Carlisle (Lugabalium) on the Scottish border and Leiden in the Netherlands.

In British folklore there exists a man called John Barleycorn, a figure that symbolises the harvest of the barley as well as the whiskey and beer that is made from it. In Robert Burns traditional folk song,  John Barleycorn is described as having to suffer many kinds of indignities which correspond with the agricultural cycle of planting, growing and harvesting.

There were many customs throughout Europe around the harvesting of the crops. The first sheaf of wheat would be ceremoniously cut at dawn, winnowed, ground into flour and baked into the harvest bread which was then gratefully shared within the community. The last sheaf was also ceremoniously cut and often made into a corn dolly dressed in ribbons and cloth and was carried into the village as the focal point of the harvest supper. If the harvest had been a success then the corn dolly was made into the image of a maiden, but if the harvest had been bad then the corn dolly resembled a cailleach.

In some parts of Europe it was tradition to weave the last sheaf into a large corn mother with a corn baby inside her that represented the next harvest.

Sometimes the last sheaf would be placed above the hearth of the home, placed in a tree trunk or mixed with the grain for the following year’s planting. In some way it found itself returned to the earth so that the fertile spirit of the harvest god could live on.

Once the harvest had been stored away safely then the festivities could begin. A bull was sacrificed, circle dancing was performed and people feasted. Much of this took place on top of hills. Tributes were also brought to the king such as venison, fish and fruit.

A tradition of Lughnasadh that still survives today across Britain and Ireland is the wake fair, although it has sadly lost its original meaning of mourning the death of the sun. The most well known is the Puck Fair which is held every year in early august in Killorglin, County Kerry. The fair has been traced back to the 16th century, but it is believed to have origins that go further back still. At the beginning of this three day festival a goat is brought  into the town and is crowned “king”, while a local girl is crowned “queen”. The festival includes traditional music and dancing, a parade, arts and crafts workshops, a horse and cattle fair and a market. Young men and women from Irish traveller families also get a chance to come together.

I cannot believe that I have now come full circle with the origins of the wheel of the year, having begun writing these posts last September. I will continue writing these types of posts, but for the foreseeable future I will be specifically concentrating on Norse traditions.

If you know of any traditions or folklore surrounding Lughnasadh then I would love to hear about them,

Brightest Blessings,

Hazel

xxx

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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