Wednesday, August 1, 2012

La Lunasa

Lughnasadh, the summer ends, the harvest begins. We light the fires, bring in the first fruits, and gather to celebrate with games and sport.

What some may not know, is the origins of the festival. While the day is named after Lugh, of the long hand; Lugh, the master of all arts; Lugh, sword shouter, it is not in actuality his day. The reason it is so named is because he began the first games, in honour of she who is the true reason for the season, Lugh's foster mother, Tailtiu. So Lughnasadh, a day punctuated by sport and merriment, the last ceilidh before the somber approach of Samhain, and winter, began its life only after the death of another. For Lugh began the first games in honour of Tailtiu, as funeral games.

The Irish have always been a bit off when it comes to things like how folks ought to behave at funerals, and their gods are no exception. Funeral games were a significant aspect of the funeral process in ancient times, and survived through the ages as parlour games, pranks, tricks and other merriment's which were commonplace during wakes of the 18th and 19th centuries. The funeral games of Tailtiu, however, maintained such a prominent place that an annual festival became common practice. But why Tailtiu? Why is this goddess who few remember, who was not even a member of the Tuatha De Danann, but rather a queen of the Fir Bolg, honoured so?

The idea of sacrifice, that things are made sacred through loss or the price paid, is of course an ancient concept. Among many of our ancestral cultures, tales are told of gods and goddesses both, who gave up much, even their very lives, to make better the world they found themselves in. The tales speak of such sacrifices, and more often than not it is the goddesses who offer themselves up, that their children may reap their hard won rewards. Tailtiu poured out her sweat, blood and ultimately life, clearing the great plains of Ireland, giving us the ability to farm and sustain ourselves through agriculture. Her exhaustion overwhelmed her, and she fell. A mound was raised, the proper rites performed, and funeral games were held. Eventually a settlement was established; Telltown it was named, after the eponymous goddess upon whose bones the town was built.

Tailtiu was fortunate to have such a noble and powerful foster son, and because of him her name and her games continue to this day. More important than that, though, through her sacrifice we are made better, and life is made just a little easier. So on this day, when we dance and sing around the fires, while the tables groan under the weight of the first harvest, while we boast and cavort, and not yet contemplate the winter, we offer our first fruits to Tailtiu, to Lugh, to the de ochus ande all. That everything has a price, and we are fortunate indeed when someone else is willing to pay it for us.

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