Living Lughnasadh


There’s an old saying that goes something like this: “If you’re falling, you might as well dive.” It sounds simple, but it isn’t easy to do. What this saying implies is for us to meet the moment head-on; to do what life requires of us, despite our own ideas about the requisites. When it rains, take out your umbrella. When something funny happens, laugh. When someone needs help, reach out a hand. But we don’t live like that. If you’re like most people, when you meet the moment, you think things through, you judge and weigh your options. You consider the people involved and decide if they are worthy of your efforts. You project your thoughts into the past and the future to see if whatever the moment needs right now is “appropriate.”

When it rains, take out your umbrella. When something funny happens, laugh. When someone needs help, reach out a hand.

As children we throw ourselves into life wholeheartedly. We leave nothing out. We live this way until we meet our school friends that teach us that some things are worth doing and others not. We learn how to edit what we say and what we do. We learn what people are “in” and which ones are “out.” We learn how to “fit in” no matter what the cost, the damage to our souls, or the harm we inflict on others. In essence, we practice living our lives protecting our egos. We separate from life and its requirements and learn to act in ways that create lasting harm to the world around us. We learn to live out of synch with life, with our instincts. We learn to live from a humming core of fear. We learn to only serve ourselves.

Lughnasadh (pronounced loo-NAH-suh) is the Gaelic word for the pre-Christian harvest festival that focused on the bounty of the first reaping. It is the first of three harvest festivals in the pagan wheel of the year, the second being Fall Equinox, and the third is Samhain. The rites of Lughnasadh center around the harvesting of grain, understanding that the killing of life also means the sustaining of life. One of the most basic motifs in world mythology and ritual is that of coming into harmony with the realization that life must feed on itself. When we see this fact clearly, it is difficult to live in harmony with it.

cauldron smallerSo what do we do? Do we shun reality? In some spiritual traditions, for example among the Jains of India, the goal is to not participate in the self-feeding fire of life. They take great care not to ingest living things and avoid killing animals or plants for food. They wear cloth over their noses and mouths to prevent accidental inhalation of insects. The Jains’ response to the ever-burning fire of life is to extinguish it. Some might see these practices as an extreme, but they are certainly one valid set of responses to the horrific notion that we must kill in order to live.
Other traditions, such as those of the Upanishads, feed the fires of life.

…coming into harmony with the realization that life must feed on itself.

All of life is Agni, or fire, in their view. Food that they eat is fire (or energy). Food gives the body its fire/energy. The Upanishads rituals involving viewing food as a sacrifice; not to turn away from the realities of living, but to embrace them, meet the moment as it requires. In the Upanishads’ view, life is an ever burning fire that needs to be fed. If you’re falling, you might as well dive.

The same holds true in the view of contemporary pagans who see the grain (and other food we eat) as a willing sacrifice. But these ideas and the philosophies that buoy them extend far beyond the rites of harvesting. Lughnasadh encourages us to live our lives just as the grain to be harvested, doing what needs to be done, sacrificing our ideas and notions of life in order to actually live organically, vitally, presently.