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Traditions and Magic - Lammas by Vanessa Armstrong

Traditions and Magic: Lammas Other names: Lughnasadh, Lughnasad, Lughnasa, Frey Fest Colours: Gold, Yellow, Orange Symbols: Bread, Grain, Corn Dollies Herbs and Flowers: Sage, Meadowsweet, Thyme, Sunflowers Foods: Bread, Apples, Pears, all grains – Barley, Rye, Wheat, Corn Crystals: Citrine, Carnelian, Malachite Drinks: Ale, Cider, Apple Juice Deity: Demeter, Ceres, Isis, Lugh, Osiris Rune: Jera Spell/Ritual Work: Offering Thanks, Abundance, Prosperity Lammas or Lughnasadh is the first of 3 harvests that fall traditionally around the 1st or 2nd August in the Northern Hemisphere. The sun has been high in the sky and the first of the grains are ready to be harvested.

Lammas means ‘loaf mass’ – so named as this is when the first harvested grains are made into the first bread of the season. Grain is held as very important and it has been honoured and revered for many, many years. It is seen as a symbol of life and death. Some of the harvested grains are stored away for the winter to be planted again in the spring when again, they would flourish green and bring forth new life. Lammas is a time for celebrating the fruits of our labours and giving thanks for the bountiful crops that are now abundant on our lands. This is a custom that dates back many years. Early Christians laid loaves baked from the harvested grains on their altars. One of the loaves would be broken into four pieces and placed at each corner of the grain shed to protect the stored grains from harm. In Anglo Saxon times, the festival was referred to as the ‘feast of first fruits’. Lammas Day was also when tenant farmers would have presented the first crop harvest to their landlord.

The name ‘Lughnasadh’ comes from the Irish Gaelic name for the Celtic God of light and Sun, Lugh. It means ‘commemoration of Lugh’. It is also connected to Lugh’s mother Tailtiu, who was said to have cleared the lands for agriculture in Ireland. August is Lugh’s sacred month, so it was this month that he held festivities to honour her – there would be feasting, dancing, games and other celebrations. Handfastings and weddings were held as August was considered an auspicious month for them. It wasn’t all about feasting and games though – the energy of Lugh was beginning to wane. It was at this time where he had given all of his power to the grains in the soil and with the first cut of the ripened crop, he would be sacrificed. It also signaled a time of rest for him until the spring when he would rise again ready to shine upon the new seeds that have been planted. Lughnasadh is one of the 4 ancient Celtic pagan seasons which are celebrated – the others being Samhain (winter), Imbolc (spring) and Beltane (summer)

Another name that comes up at Lammas is John Barleycorn or the Corn King. There is a poem about him by Scottish Bard Robert Burns about how he, as the grain, is sown, harvested and turned into beer, whisky or bread. How he is sacrificed so that life can continue. Again it is about birth, life, death and rebirth and effigies of him are very often at Pagan Lammas celebrations.

There are many traditions connected to both Lammas and Lughnasadh – a lot of them intertwine today and celebrations are done for both –

It was quite important when the first sheaf of grain would be cut. At dawn on the first morning, the first cut was the one to produce the first loaf. The grain would be cut, ground and baked that morning and shared by the community to give thanks. The stalks were made into the first beer too. Some of the first harvested grains were also the ones that were to be put away into the barns for sowing the following year. The last sheaf didn’t go without recognition. This one was made into a corn dolly or ‘corn maiden’ and would live in the home – usually above the fireplace or hearth of the home – and there it would stay until the next harvest. Sometimes it would be placed within the grain in the barn to be included in the sowing for the following season. This would signify the birth, death and rebirth aspect. Another way of honouring the dolly was to bury it within the earth at ploughing or to burn it.

Grains are just one of the herbs/plants that are connected with Lammas. The grain itself – and this covers wheat, barley, oats and rye all represent completion, potential and optimism. Mint is a herb that is connected with Lammas too. Its properties include healing and protection, but it is also a herb that speaks of prosperity and abundance, so this is often woven into a corn dolly or besom this time to year. Meadowsweet is a flower that is worn in circlets or in posies at Handfastings. Its properties include peace, love and its wonderful scent brings about the feelings of happiness. Sunflowers, with their huge brightly coloured heads turned towards the sun are a flower that is definitely connected with this time of year.

Grain dollies – as mentioned above – are a wonderful way to honour Lammas. Very often, when the fields have been cut, stray stalks of wheat, or barley are left on the ground. They were collected up and fashioned into a dolly shape using the stalks as ties or with coloured ribbons.

Seeds from sunflowers, other flowers or grains can be dried in the sun and given as gifts at Samhain or Yule. Pop them into a pretty cotton bag or a decorated cardboard box.

Decorate your altar with grains, corn dollies, sunflowers, colours of the sun – yellows and oranges! Offer pieces of bread or grain to the deities as thanks for a bountiful harvest. Cornucopia is a basket that is horn shaped and is filled with the early fruits and vegetables that are ready at Lammas. Cornucopia means ‘horn of plenty’ and it represents the abundance and nourishment of the harvest. You could always gift one of these to friends as thanks.

This is also a time to reflect on personal growth and harvesting. The ideas, plans and goals that you set early in the year may be coming to fruition now. The hard work that you have put in is finally paying off. It also signifies a time of change. Although it is still very warm – if you are fortunate enough to have good weather – there is an anticipation of knowing that soon, the days will be noticeably shorter, the temperatures will fall and autumn and winter are around the corner. It is also a time to finish up those odd jobs, complete projects so that you can rest and rejuvenate over the cold winter period.

Photo by Emma Van Sant on Unsplash

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