Imbolc (or Imolg) is a festival of returning light and the beginning of Spring, celebrated on or around 1st February. It is also known as Candlemas.
This festival celebrates the goddess Brighid and at this time folk sought her blessings on homes and livestock. It is a festival of the hearth and home, and a celebration of the lengthening days and the early signs of spring. The lighting of candles and fires represents the return of warmth and the increasing power of the Sun over the coming months.
Imbolc was also believed to be when the Cailleach — the divine hag of Gaelic tradition — gathers her firewood for the rest of the Winter. Legend has it that if she wishes to make the Winter last a good while longer, she will make sure the weather on Imbolc is bright and sunny, so she can gather plenty of firewood. Therefore, people would be relieved if Imbolc was a day of foul weather, as it meant the Cailleach is asleep and Winter was almost over.
Lughnasadh is a harvest festival, where the first fruits of the harvest are celebrated on or around the 1st August, and is named after the god Lugh.
Lugh was a popular sun god, worshipped throughout the Celtic world. In Gaul, he was identified as Lugus or Lug. Because Lugus was identified as the solar god, the Greeks identified Lugus with the sun god Apollo. In Wales, he was called Lleu, while in Ireland, he was called Lugh or Lug. He was popularly called Lugh Lamfada – “Lugh of the Long Arms”, as well as Lugh Samildánach – “Skilled in All the Arts”. It is said that Lugh instituted an event similar to the Olympic games called the Assembly of Talti which finished on Lughnasadh (1 August) in memory of his foster-mother, Tailtiu, at the town that bears her name (now Teltown, County Meath).
The community of the Beltane Fire Society has celebrated Lughnasadh in a variety of ways over the years. Often games are held in the afternoon of the festival and winners of the games are then selected to be performers in the evening ritual celebration.
Featured image by Martin McCarthy for Beltane Fire Society.