What is Lammas/Lughnasadh?
Lughnasadh, or Lammas, is the first harvest festival of the Pagan Wheel of the Year. It is known as the Grain harvest, it is the first of the three traditional harvest festivals, starting here at late Summer, usually around the 1st of August and culminating at Samhain, the end of October.
It is a time of abundance and plenty. The crops are ripening, and it is time to begin gathering them in, we can see the apples growing on the tress, and nuts in the hedgerows – if you are lucky and grow some veg, you might be able to start harvesting the first tomatoes, beans, courgettes.
Lughnasadh is the pagan festival of the Sun god Lugh, a time for joy, fun and games. It is the first of the harvests, the grain harvest, a time of gathering in the grain, a time to be thankful for the abundance. It is also known as Lammas, which translates in old Saxon as “loaf mass” referring to the bread baked with the first grains.
Lugh, the Sun God, the God of Light. He would be celebrated by feasting, market fairs, games and bonfire celebrations. Circle dancing, reflecting the movement of the sun in sympathetic magic, was popular, as were all community gatherings. August was considered an auspicious month for handfastings and weddings.
But underlying this is the knowledge that the bounty and energy of Lugh, of the Sun, is now beginning to wane. It is a time of change and shift. Active growth is slowing down and the darker days of winter and reflection are beckoning. You can tangibly feel the shift in the air and energy.
Traditionally, all things to do with honouring the grain, corn and harvest would be celebrated. The Goddess is known by many names throughout the year, at this time she is The Grain Mother, Harvest Mother, Harvest Queen, Earth Mother, Ceres, and Demeter. Demeter, as Corn Mother, represents the ripe corn of this year’s harvest and 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 fullness and fulfilment of the present harvest already holds at its very heart the seed of all future harvest. (It is a fact that a pregnant woman carrying her as yet unborn daughter is also already carrying the ovary containing all the eggs her daughter will ever release – she is already both mother, grandmother and beyond, embodying the great Motherline – pure magic and mystery.)
So 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. The Grain Mother is ripe and full, heavily pregnant she carries the seed of the new year’s Sun God within her. There is tension here. For the Sun God, the God of the Harvest, the Green Man, or John Barleycorn, surrenders his life with the cutting of the corn.
The Sun God, Lugh, as John Barleycorn, is the living Spirit of the corn, or grain. As the corn 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. The first sheaf of corn is supremely important, produces the first (and best) seed and assurance of future harvest. As ever the wheel turns, always showing the eternal cycle of Life, Death and rebirth. Everything dies in its season. Everything is reborn. This is our lesson, the whisper of immortality. And the wonderful bittersweet of Lughnasadh/Lammas.
We have it so much easier than our Ancestors, who’s lives depended on the weather, on the harvest being bountiful – we have the comfort of our homes and gardens, the abundance of food from all around the world in our shops, and so it should be easy to feel gratitude and blessings for all we have.
Make the most of being able to get outside, with friends and family. Think of all your many blessings, and spend some time in quiet reflection writing them down. How can we pass that on? It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture, simple small humble acts of kindness will have a ripple effect.
Harvest Hare by Wendy Andrew
The Goddess and the Green Man always do great blogs about the festivals.
Feeling the Seasons
For many people, working to the “traditional” wheel of the year does not resonate. I use inverted commas here as the modern-day Wheel of the Year was first suggested by the scholar and mythologist Jacob Grimm (1785-1863 CE) in his 1835 CE work, Teutonic Mythology, and fixed in its present form in the 1950s and early ’60s CE by the Wicca movement, and it’s what most modern Pagans follow as a guide to working with the seasons – I’m not knocking it, as it gives us a beautiful frame work to follow, but I think its important to look and the origins of things, and develop them into meaningful practices for ourselves. You can read more about that here. I even find myself more often just working with and feeling the shift in the air, how the elements are making me feel in that moment – let’s face it, our seasons have changed, we notice the subtle changes at different times depending where we are in the country, so saying harvest time happens exactly on the 1st of August is not relevant for many of us – in fact because of the hot dry weather this year much of the harvest in the fields around me has already been gathered in.
Or you may be a city dweller, in which case referring to watching the harvest being gathered in on the fields has no meaning at all! Like the words even, “lughnasadh” “lammas”, they have no meaning to many of us in our modern lives – and while I think it is important to honour the words that were used in the past and acknowledge them, it is equally important to have a meaningful connection with the festivals that is relevant to our own lives and practices – this is how we build our intuition and our own traditions. So often we get entrenched in things that have lost their meaning. I think we will all feel much more connected to the turning of the wheel if we actually just step outside of our front (or back) doors, or open the windows, take a sniff of the air on the early morning, notice how the leaves look, how the breeze sounds, how the sun feels on our skin, where it sits in the sky on its journey. At night too – go outside, sit quietly if you can and feel how the air has changed. There will be subtle but perceptible differences happening every day. To me that is the magic of the seasonal shifts and in being able to notice them.
You can still connect with the energy of the festival by doing traditional crafts – baking bread, making corn dollies.
Ideas for Your Altar
Decorate your altar with symbols of the season – corn dollies, sickles and scythes, garden goodies like ivy and grapes and corn, poppies, dried grains, and early autumn foods like apples, some stalks of wheat or corn, golden and orange coloured crystals like amber and citrine, or colours of the earth, greens and browns, like tigers eye and amazonite. If you have oracle or tarot cards you can have an image that represents the Harvest Mother, or Mother Earth. This is your altar, go with what feels right for you. Have a candle on your altar to represent the archetype of the Harvest Mother–choose something in orange, red or yellow. These colours not only represent the blaze of the summer sun, but also the coming changes of autumn.
The Harvest Mother was the Pregnant Goddess at the Solstice. Right now, the earth is fruitful and abundant, crops are bountiful, and livestock are fattening up for winter. However, the Harvest Mother knows that the cold months are coming, and so she encourages us to begin gathering up what we can.
Harvest Goddess by Wendy Andrew
At this the season of harvesting we can begin to give thanks for all the abundance we have in our lives. If you grow vegetable or flowers we can begin the harvest ourselves on a physical level, not only having the fruits of our labour, but also saving the seeds and roots for next year’s planting. It’s the time of year when the apples are almost ripe for the plucking, the fields are full and lush, and we’re grateful for the food we have on our tables.
May your harvests be abundant, your larders and hearts full.
Much love and Summer blessings,