What is Lammas / Lughnasadh?
Lammas, also known as Lughnasadh (pronunciation), is the first of the 3 harvest festival holidays, one of the 8 holidays observed during the Wheel of the Year and by Wiccans, Celts, Gaels, Druids and Christians.
The name Lammas comes from 'Loaf Mass' where it was traditionally a day to bake loafs of breads from the first harvest of wheat & grains to share with friends & family.
The name ‘Lughnasadh’ comes from a combination of the Irish sun-deity Lugh, who was a warrior and hero, and ‘nasad’ which means ‘assembly’
There are a number of other names for the day including Lamdess, Lammastide and Lammas Eve.
The festival’s roots date back to ancient times when the festival was referred to as the ‘feast of first fruits’ with biblical precedent. It also marks the end of the hay harvesting season from the Jewish agricultural calendar.
We celebrate Lammas by baking bread and creating with our hands to give thanks for all of life's gifts. It's a holiday of remembering and releasing. We reflect on what has grown and what remains to be gathered later in the fall.
Symbols of Lammas
Lammas is a celebration of the first harvest of grain, a time for gathering and giving thanks for abundance. There are many customs throughout the world around the cutting of the grain or corn and they applied to all cereal crops including wheat, barley, rye and oats. Both the cutting of the first gain and the last grain are significant. The first grain sheafs would be made into Lammas Bread. The first barley stalks would be made into the first beer of the season. As the grain harvest is gathered in, there is food to feed the community through the winter and within that harvest is the seed of next year's rebirth, regeneration and harvest.
Lammas Bread is made from the first sheaf which would be ceremonially cut at dawn, winnowed, ground and baked into the Harvest Bread; which was then shared by the community in thanks. The first sheaf guarantees the seed and thus continuity.
The last sheaf was also ceremonially cut, collecting corn husks to be made into a 'corn dolly', carried to the village with festivity and was central to the Harvest Supper. The corn dolly was made into a Corn Maiden (after a good harvest) or a cailleach, hag or cone (after a bad harvest). She could be dressed with ribbons, even clothed.
Lughnasadh is the great festival of Lugh, or Lug, the great Celtic Sun King and God of Light. Lugh is also known as Lugh Samildánach (the Many Skilled) and Lugh Lámhfada (Lugh with the Long Arm). August is His sacred month when He initiated great festivities in honour of His foster mother, Tailtiu. Feasting, market fairs, games and bonfire celebrations were the order of the day. Lugh was worshipped, like his Greek and Roman equivalents Hermes and Mercury, mostly on elevations, hills & mountaintops.
The Grain Mother
At Lammas the Goddess is in Her aspect as Grain Mother, Harvest Mother, Harvest Queen, Earth Mother, Ceres and Demeter. Demeter, as Corn Mother, represents the ripe corn of this year's harvest while her daughter Kore/Persephone represents the grain - the seed which drops back deep into the dark earth, hidden throughout the winter, and re-appears in the spring as new growth. This is the deep core meaning of Lammas and comes in different guises.
The God of the harvest is the Green Man who's also known as John Barleycorn. In the fields John Barleycorn, who laid with the Lady in the woods at Beltane, has grown old, and now stands bent and bearded with a crocked cane. As the living spirit of the grain he looks to the Sun as he has changed from green to gold, and he knows that his time has come.
His life will feed the people, and it is this sacrifice that we honour at Lughnasadh. As the grain is cut, so John Barleycorn is cut down also. He surrenders his life so that others may be sustained by the grain, so that the life of the community can continue. He is both eaten as the bread and is then reborn as the seed returns to the earth.
Death and rebirth. Everything dies in its season. Everything is reborn. This is our whisper of immortality. And the wonderful bittersweet of Lammas. In some areas his death is mourned with wreaths decorated with poppies or cornflowers.
Colours of Lammas
Green, with every shade of sun and harvest, from gold and yellow to deepest orange. Lammas is also known as 'The Festival of Light' with thanks given to the Sun's life-giving energy reborn as life-giving grains.
Lammas is a time to celebrate the harvest, one way to do this is to honour gods & goddesses with offerings, rituals and prayers. Celebrations vary, as Lammas is celebrated by both Pagans and Christians.
Christians traditionally bring a loaf of bread made from the new wheat crop to the church for a blessing, making loaves from the grain collected at the first harvest.
A book of Anglo-Saxon charms directed that Lammas Bread be broken into four parts, which were to be placed at the four corners of the barn, to protect the garnered grain.
Wiccans mark the holiday by baking a figure of the god in bread and eating it, to symbolize the sanctity and importance of the harvest.
In the Celtic pantheon Lugh is the god of craftspeople & making. It's celebrated with offerings of grain, handmade crafts and by lighting a white, yellow or harvest-coloured candle to commemorate the death of Lugh's foster mother Tailtiu, who died of exhaustion after clearing the plains for agriculture.
Since the Celtic day started with sunset, the celebration takes place on the evening of the full moon next to this date, if you want to celebrate when the ancient Celts probably did.
August 1 ushers in the harvest season. This day is known as Lammas Day or Loaf Mass Day. The heathen cake was baked of the newly-harvested grain in thanksgiving for life's generosity and abundance. As the pagans sacrificed the fruits of the soil to the sun god, the newly baptized Christians brought their bread to be blessed at the Church's Loaf Mass.
Part of this bread, which they made of the grain they had raised, was consecrated and changed into the Eucharist of Christ. The greater part was blessed and taken home for the Lammas Day feast. And, if the loaf lasted more than a meal, the crumbs and leftovers were toasted and crumbled into a pot with butter & milk then cooked up like porridge.
The idea of sacrifice is inherent in the pagan rites. Willingly they give up part of their harvest in the fire, for they believe that by sacrifice the divine life is strengthened within them.
Simple Breadmaking Blessing
Bless the earth that grows the grain
Bless the water that gives us rain
Bless the wind that seeds spread
Bless the fire that bakes our bread
And the feast was served
The Wheel has turned once more,
the First Harvest is at our door.
Giving us Abundance of Plenty,
We share them with our own and many~
Our Dying Sun begins to Fade,
As the Goddess bears the Fruit they made,
The Sun will journey back to Earth,
In the endless Cycle of Life, Death and Rebirth~
Lughnasadh Solo Ritual
Lammas / Lughnasadh Music
Collect The Seeds Of Future Harvest
Involve children if you can. Collect and dry seeds in the sun, ready for next year's planting. Consider giving them as gifts at Samhain or Yule. Seeds are such amazing and mysterious things - each tiny seed contains within it the blueprint for the whole plant it will become. It will mirror its mother plant, the mother that raised the seed and returned it to the earth with the help of the light of the sun. It's a miracle every time.
Foods of Lammas
Of course Lammas is a very good time to express gratitude for the blessings and gifts that we are now receiving. In times of microwave and frozen pizza it may seem anachronistic to thank for the harvest. Many of our modern foodstuffs make it hard to still recognize the waving grain on the field in them. And yet there is a way to connect with nature via the food that we eat. This is especially valid for self-harvested fruits. But also conscious eating, eating with focus on the food and not on TV or newspaper, is one way of expressing our thanks for the harvest – all year round, but especially at Lammas.
Locally Harvested Foods
The best foods for the first harvest festival is of course freshly harvested from your local area, and will vary by region.
Grains that are harvested at Lammas time include Wheat, Barley, Oats, Rye as well as the plants Meadowsweet, Mint, Sunflower and Calendula.
Bread is the ultimate symbol of the Lammas season. After all, once the grain is harvested, it is milled and baked into bread, which is then consumed. It is the cycle of the harvest come full circle. The spirit of John Barleycorn lives on through us in the eating of the bread. In many traditions, a loaf of special bread is baked in the shape of a man, to symbolize the god of the harvest.
We take sunflowers for granted, they are perfectly named and loved by children of all ages. Associated with wealth, prosperity and wisdom, sunflowers face the sun, turning their heads throughout the day. And, of course, their seeds are delicious! By this stage in the year the flower heads are full and heavy with that wonderful spiral of seeds and they spend the whole day gently turning their heads to gaze at the sun. In the Aztec temples of the sun, priestesses carried sunflowers and wore them as crowns. They symbolize the fertility of the Solar Logos.
Having a Lammas party? Float sunflowers and white or yellow candles in a large tub of water for a statement piece.
Cook a meal with sunflower oil instead of vegetable or olive oil.
Also known as Queen-Of-The-Meadow, Bridewort and Bride of the Meadow. One of the most sacred herbs of the Druids, this was often worn as a garland for Lammas celebrations and was a traditional herb for wedding circlets and bouquets at this time of year. Also used for love spells and can be strewn to promote peace, and its heady scent cheers the heart.
Linked to love & fertility; cherries, raspberries and blueberries are usually ripe and ready to harvest this time of year
Mint is another of the three most revered herbs of the Druids (Vervain being the third, according to Grieve). Its magical properties are both protection and healing, and at this stage in the year, its properties of drawing abundance and prosperity, are most appropriate.
Basil represents protection and love, so why not whip up a batch of pesto? Harvest fresh basil from your garden, add a bit of oil, and enjoy it!
You can easily make a loaf of Lammas bread by using your favorite bread recipe - if you don't have one, it's okay to use a pre-made loaf of bread dough, found in the frozen food section in your grocery store. Brush your bread man - or woman - with melted butter, sprinkle with herbs if you like, and use in your Lammas ritual.
Make your own Grain Mother or Corn Dolly. Go for a walk and see what you can find - husks of corn, wheat, oats, barley, rye often left growing on the edges of fields after harvesting, failing that any grasses and/or reeds you can find.
Let your creativity out - if you feel confident, weave your Grain Mother into being, but equally you can just lace and tie her into being with Lammas-coloured ribbons. As you do so, give thanks for the gifts of Harvest. Place your Grain Mother on your mantle, altar or at the centre of celebrations.
At Samhain, return the grain stalks to the earth, they contain the seeds of future harvest.
Make homemade bird seed including sunflower seeds and place outside.
Collect wildflowers and pick up Sunflowers & Calendulas (Pot Marigolds) to spend an afternoon making arrangements for yourself or family and friends. Little suns, pure joy, in all their shades from deep orange to pale yellow.
Another way to celebrate the food of Lammas is to give to those who need it, if your pantry is full you may wish to donate some of that food. If you know of anyone who may be food insecure in your community, invite them for dinner or bring them a basket of extra harvest from your garden.
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