The Festival Sabbat of Lammas
Lughnassadh, Lugnasad August 1st/2nd
It is now high summer and the union of Sun and Earth, of God and Goddess, has produced the First Harvest. Lammas is the celebration of this first, Grain Harvest, a time for gathering in and giving thanks for abundance. We work with the cycle that Mabon or the Autumn Equinox is the Second Harvest of Fruit, and Samhain is the third and Final Harvest of Nuts and Berries.
The word ‘Lammas’ is derived from ‘loaf mass’ and is indicative of how central and honoured is the first grain and the first loaf of the harvesting cycle.
It is also the great festival of Lugh, or Lug, the great Celtic Sun King and God of Light. August is His sacred month when He initiated great festivities in honour of His mother, Tailtiu. Feasting, market fairs, games and bonfire celebrations were the order of the day. 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…
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 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 fulfillment 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. Death and rebirth. Everything dies in its season. Everything is reborn. This is our whisper of immortality. And the wonderful bittersweet of Lammas.
Customs of Cutting the Grain
There are many customs throughout Europe 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 sheaf would often be ceremonially cut at dawn, winnowed, ground and baked into the Harvest Bread which was then shared by the community in thanks. The first barley stalks would be made into the first beer of the season. The first sheaf guarantees the seed and thus continuity.
The last sheaf was also ceremonially cut, often 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.
This last sheaf would live in the home, often above the fireplace or hearth of the home, until the next harvest. Or it might be placed in the branches of a tree or mixed with the seed for the next year’s sowing. In some way it eventually needed to return to the earth from whence it came so that the fertilizing spirit of John Barleycorn, of the Harvest God, could pass from harvest to harvest. It could be ploughed back, returned to decay and rot, or burnt and the ashes scattered.
In some parts of Europe the tradition was to weave the last sheaf into a large Corn Mother with a smaller ‘baby’ inside it, representing the harvest to come the following year. Once the harvest was completed, safely gathered in, the festivities would begin. Bread was made from the new grain and thanks given to the Sun’s life-giving energy reborn as life-giving bread.
Herbs and Plants of Lammas
wheat, barley, oats, rye, all representing both fulfillment and potential.
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.
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.
Sunflower. We take sunflowers for granted, they are perfectly named and loved by children of all ages. 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.
Calendula. Little suns, pure joy, in all their shades from deep orange to pale yellow.
Colours of Lammas
Still green, with every shade of sun and harvest, from gold and yellow to deepest orange.
Wheat and all grains, corn dolly, bread, sunflowers and calendulas (pot marigolds).
Things To Do
Lammas Charm For Gathering In Abundance
You will need:
A broom or besom
. Don’t worry if it isn’t a traditional besom, any broom will do as it is always intent that is important. If you have no broom collect a bundle of twigs and tie them at the top with Lammas ribbon to make a hand broom shape. The besom/broom is a potent symbol of hearth and home, found in some form in almost every household. It is a traditional magical tool useful for everyday charms as it has the imprint of its owner firmly on it. Sweeping is a natural gathering gesture.
A piece of green ribbon (for abundance), a piece of gold ribbon (for prosperity and gathering) or ribbon in Lammas harvest colours would be equally suitable.
A Spring of Mint.
Ideally a sprig of mint from your garden (but you can get this from any supermarket), or dried mint – put it in a pouch. The mint represents abundance and plenty and is easily accessible to the urban hedgewitch.
Take your broom and tie your ribbon around the stave or top. Tie in your sprig of mint or securely fasten your pouch. Take your broom outside, place both hands on the stave and focus on your intention – gathering in your harvest for winter. Turn slowly three times in a clockwise direction then start to sweep towards your door saying:
“By one, two, three and four, sweep Lammas gifts to my door. May abundance be a constant friend, by my hearth till Winter’s end.”
Repeat this three times, then take your besom/broom back into your house and put it in its usual place. You can leave the ribbon on for as long as want to, for a lunar month, or until winter is done. If you have made your own broom you can place it where you consider the heart of your home to be. The mint can be returned to the earth with thanks.
If you do not have an outside space you can sweep from your front door inwards to either your kitchen or hearth using the same charm.Make A Grain Mother
Make your own Grain Mother or Corn Dolly. Go for a walk and see what you can find – stalks of 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 altar or at the centre of celebrations. At Samhain, return the grain stalks to the earth, they contain the seeds of future harvest…
Buttermilk Bread Charm for Lammas
You will need:
3 mugs of strong white flour
500 ml of Buttermilk (available from the supermarket)
I teaspoonful of bicarbonate of soda
Lammas ribbon in your choice of colour – gold, orange, yellow
Sprouted seeds – these represent regeneration. Can even be bought in the supermarket now. Frequently found in wholefood shops – or sprout your own.
Place the flour in a large bowl. Make a well in the centre. Sieve in the blended salt and soda and pour in the buttermilk. Mix well with a wooden spoon until the dough feels springy and then mix in the sprouted seeds. If it feels too sloppy just add a little more flour. Turn it onto a board and cover with a fine dusting of flour. Pat it with your hands until you have a round shape. Take a sharp knife and score lightly into eight sections, one for each festival. Our picture shows the bread cut into five sections, making a pentacle.
Place onto a greased baking tray and pop your buttermilk bread into a moderate oven for about 20-25 minutes. Keep and eye on it. When the bread is ready it will change colour and it will sound hollow when you tap the bottom. Cool completely on a wire rack. When it is cool, tie it with Lammas ribbon.
Take time to concentrate on the bread you have created and turn the loaf three times saying“From the fields and through the stones, into fire, Lammas Bread, as the Wheel turns may all be fed. Goddess Bless.”
Now take your bread and share it with your family and friends and pass on the generous blessings of this bright and bountiful festival. Eat it fresh, as soon as it is made if you can.
Collect The Seeds Of Future Harvest
Involve children if you can. Collect and dry them 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.
Have Fun, Give Thanks and Celebrate.