The August “cross-quarter” High Day is often known as either Lammas or Lughnasadh. While the two terms are used interchangeably in neo-paganism, they are not generally considered to be related.
Lughnasadh is the Irish name for the festival, held in honour of the god Lugh and his foster-mother Tailtiu. The festival is one of the great “Fire Festivals” of the Celtic year and is often celebrated with bonfires, the ashes of which would be used to bless the fields and give thanks to Tailtiu, who died after clearing the plains of Ireland for agricultural crops. The festival has a harvest theme, and celebrates the abundance of the fields. As Lugh is referred to as “many-skilled” it is also a time for sports and games of skill and strength.
The name Lammas refers to the Anglo-Saxon festival of “Loaf-mass” that was also held around this time. The first loaves of bread from the Summer’s grain harvest were baked and blessed at this time, and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle refers to Lammas as the festival of “first fruits”. Hutton writes that the festival is very likely pre-Christian in origin and was celebrated “in different ways and under different names all over Celtic, Saxon and Norse Britain”. While etymologically unconnected with Lughnasadh, Lammas is also a great harvest festival, a time for coming together and sharing the bounty of nature and hard work.
In some Asatru sources, this time of year is also the festival of Freyfaxi, dedicated to the god Freyr, who as one of the Vanir can be seen as a god of nature, of fertility and the harvest cycle. ADF states that this was also the time of “Thingstide, also known as Hlafmaest” and was the time of the great Thing, a gathering of the people to discuss matters and to share fellowship.
In all cases, the festival is associated with the general concept of the harvest, and is a time to be grateful for the food on our table and the farmers who labour in the fields to provide it.
ADF. Our Own Druidry: An Introduction to Ár nDraíocht Féin and the Druid Path. Tucson: ADF Publishing, 2009.
Hutton, Ronald. Stations of the sun: a history of the ritual year in Britain. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.