Ugly Duckling Sabbats: Midsummer & Lughnasadh

“Jason Mankey calls Lughnasadh ‘the ugly-duckling of sabbats.’ I don’t like that, but Jason is telling the truth. Perhaps Pagans and polytheists would put more into celebrating Lughnasadh if they knew more about Lugh. This is the story of his birth.” John Beckett at Under the Ancient Oaks

I have no axe to grind when it comes to the Summer Sabbats of Midsummer and Lughnassa. I celebrate both of them, and in recent years have tried to even be more conscious of them. But both of them are indeed the ugly ducklings on the Wheel of the Year. I’m not saying that to diminish those holidays or imply that they are less important than other sabbats, it’s just that they tend to be celebrated a bit less than the rest for a variety of reasons.

(For those of you protesting and saying “Lughnassa is my favorite sabbat” that’s not the point of this article. Of course it can be your favorite sabbat, but that doesn’t change the fact that it tends to be “less celebrated” than those other sabbats.)

"Sunrise" by George Inness, from WikiMedia and the Brooklyn Museum.
“Sunrise” by George Inness, from WikiMedia and the Brooklyn Museum.

There’s no definitive way to prove to anyone that certain sabbats have less celebrants than other ones, but I can make a pretty good case based on the page views at this blog. I write extensively on the sabbats, including histories along with a ritual or two. Using page-views as a metric of popularity our most popular sabbats tend to be:

1. Samhain
2. Yule
3. Beltane
4. Ostara
5. Imbolc
———- (I should point out that the drop off from the top five to the bottom three is really big.)
6. Autumn Equinox
7. Midsummer
8. Lughnassa/Lammas

Just to be clear I’m not implying that certain festivals are more important than other ones, or that “everyone hates Midsummer.” Easter is arguably the most important holiday on the Christian calendar, and yet Christmas is the most dominant holiday in that tradition. Sometimes certain holidays just end up with more people excited about them for whatever reason, and I think those reasons are worth exploring.

PEOPLE TRAVEL A LOT DURING THE SUMMER

If you live in the Western World and are lucky enough to get a vacation, it’s probably during the Summer. For families, it’s about the only time they can get out of the house due to school commitments. Our two ugly duckling sabbats occur during peak vacation times in the United States and Europe. That means if you practice with people it’s far more likely to have missing coven members in June/July/August than during the other nine months of the year.

One of my covens didn’t even celebrate Midsummer this year. I was on the road at a festival, my wife had concert tickets one of those weekends (that she attended with a coven member), and three other folks in our extended family were busy with events. Summer tends to be thought of as a time of leisure, but that leisure often occurs away from our homes.

“Fairy Passage” by John Anster Fitzgerald from WikiMedia Commons.
“Fairy Passage” by John Anster Fitzgerald from WikiMedia Commons.

IT’S BLOODY HOT OUT

When it’s 100 degrees Fahrenheit outside I’m probably going to pass on ritual. Some of you are probably going “Well, if that’s the case, Jason is a bad Pagan,” and maybe you are right, but I don’t feel the urge to bake in the sun, let alone leave my house on such days. (And yes, if I’m obligated to do something I will most certainly make sure it gets done, but the sabbats were made for us, not us for the sabbats.)

I live in a pretty temperate part of the country so this isn’t really a problem for me, but the mercury does rise out here on occasion and when it does I sometimes pass on ritual. My coven generally celebrates at our house, but we don’t have central air conditioning and when it’s hot outside our house is doubly miserable. No one needs to “celebrate” a sabbat while feeling awful, and I like to avoid the prospect of people passing out in our temple space.

Our local eclectic circle generally has its worst attendance at the Summer sabbats, and likely due to this reason. I can only imagine what it’s like doing ritual in Arizona or Texas in August. That just doesn’t sound fun at all.

Sunflower from my garden.  It's pretty!
Sunflower from my garden. It’s pretty!

SADLY, THE OVER CULTURE MATTERS

As you read this, remember that it’s not about you, it’s about Pagandom as a whole, and what’s going on in the greater world does seem to have an effect on our holidays. If a sabbat has parallels with a holiday that’s widely celebrated by everyone else outside of Pagandom it tends to be more popular. It’s easy to get caught up in the Samhain-spirit when there are Halloween decorations everywhere, that’s the same with Yule.

May 1 was never a huge holiday date in North America, but it remains one in much of Europe. There’s also a great deal of Beltane lore out there, along with a few parallels between Beltane and the Christian Easter. (And the Easter/Ostara connection is a HUGE reason the Spiring Equinox is so widely celebrated in the Pagan Community.)

Yes, I’m well aware that there are Christian holidays associated with Midsummer and Lammas, but they aren’t widely celebrated in the 21st Century. Target does not sell party supplies for St. John’s Eve or Lammas, nor are there Charlie Brown specials dedicated to them.

The longer a holiday is continuously (and popularly) celebrated the more traditions it will have around it too, and the more traditions associated with a holiday the easier it is to celebrate. Think of Beltane versus Lughnassa for a second. At Beltane we’ve got maypoles, Spring in high gear, sex, sex between deities depending on your tradition, and morris dancing. At Lughnassa we’ve got the first harvest? Maybe bread? It’s just not equitable.

I DON’T THINK IT’S BECAUSE WE ARE DISCONNECTED

Sometimes I read things like “Lughnasadh would be more widely celebrated if we were closer to nature or all had gardens,” but I don’t think that’s really the case. It’s true that lot of us are somewhat disconnected from the earth because we live in cities, but I think that’s a lot of the reason Paganism has been growing for the past 200 years! We connect through rituals, and not always through the agriculture taking place around us.

As someone who gardens my plants connect me to the sacred everyday, and not just on sabbats. I’ve got jalapeno peppers ready to harvest right now, and probably some tomatoes within the next two weeks.

"Stacks of Wheat (End of Summer)" by Claude Monet.
“Stacks of Wheat (End of Summer)” by Claude Monet.

WE PROBABLY CELEBRATE THE UGLY DUCKLINGS MORE THAN WE THINK

While there’s not always a lot going on for Midsummer and Lammas specifically, that doesn’t meant they aren’t being celebrated, we are probably just celebrating them in different ways. My wife went to see Nick Cave last week, perhaps not a true Pagan ritual, but it was to her. In late July we’ll be on vacation in Orlando, it won’t be to celebrate Lughnassa specifically, but it’s our vacation and “all acts of love and pleasure” are among the rituals of a Witch.

Remember, there’s no one way to celebrate a sabbat, and sabbats still happen regardless of whether we ritualize for them or not. In my own practice there’s always been about a two week window for celebrating every sabbat, which tends to mean I celebrate everything, at least eventually.

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