Welcome to the first harvest!
Lughnasadh, (pronounced loo-nas-ah), or Lammas (loaf mass) happens around the first of August – but due to location and seasonal weather patterns, you can choose to celebrate from the end of July to mid August – everything is fluid.
As the wheel turns again we mark the time by noticing the change and shift. Growth is slowing down and the change of seasons is approaching.
It is now high summer and the union of the Sun and Earth, the God and the Goddess has produced the first harvest. Lammas is the first of the three harvest festivals for Pagans, and we celebrate this by giving thanks for the abundance we have.
Known as the “Grain harvest”, it begins where I am at high, also known as late, Summer, usually around the 1st of August.
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 of your crops.
Lughnasadh connects with and refers to the Gaelic Sun god, Lugh.
As with Midsummer, this is still a time for joy, fun and games, gathering together to celebrate the abundance of nature and our lives. It is also known as Lammas, which translates in old Saxon as “loaf mass” referring to the bread baked with the first grains that are harvested.
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 as with all things, there is a double edge to it, the yin cannot exist without the yang, underlying is the knowledge that the bounty and energy of Lugh, the energy of the Sun, is now beginning to wane. 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.
The Goddess and the God
At this time of Lughnasadh / Lammas the Goddess takes on the aspect of the Harvest Mother.
Art by Wendy Andrew
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.
Corn Dollies (whose name derives from ‘Corn Idol’ or ‘Image’) have been around for thousands of years with many designs dating back to the ancient times (around 4000 years BC) together with the evidence of the existence of carvings on old tombs looking very much like plaited straw work in Egypt at least 6000 years BC.
The folklore and history behind Corn Dollies is very varied but the basic idea behind them is that the Spirit of the Corn (which could be oats, wheat, rye or barley) resided in the last sheaf gathered at harvest time and special ceremonies attended its cutting. Often a figure or traditional design would be made from this sheaf that would be preserved in the house/home until the following year in the belief that the Spirit would ensure that the seed corn would germinate in the following Spring.
Men and women, according to some folklore, would also make small Corn Dollies. They would give them to their sweethearts as love tokens, these were known as Favours or Harvest Knots and would have been worn as a buttonhole.
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 energy of Lughnasadh/Lammas.
In these modern times of perpetual abundance, compared to our Ancestors, we have it so much easier. Their 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. And yet, compared to the communities and connections our Ancestors had with each other, we are sorely lacking….
Ways To Celebrate….
Make the most of being able to get outside, either alone or 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…donate your time, or things you no longer need, to charity, help out a friend, spend time in nature – pick up litter, give back to the Earth and Mother Nature.
Decorate your altar, bake bread, make your own corn dolly, there are lots of videos on youtube, or maybe there is even a local craftsperson running a workshop! write or journal – bring your attention to the things that you feel grateful for – name them – write them down somewhere, maybe start a gratitude jar and continue to fill this across the three harvest festivals.
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.
However you choose to celebrate, do it with gratitude. If you don’t have time to take part in any activities, just take a moment to reflect on all that has come into your life this year. Give thanks, and send blessings to our beautiful, supportive, nurturing, life-giving Earth.
Wishing you abundant blessings this Lammas season!
Much love and green blessings,