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.
Charm donated with generous heart by the Counter Enchantress.
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…
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.
The Sisterhood of the Antlers –
Lughnasadgh’s ancient roots is where the story of the Sisterhood of the Antlers lies. Yet it’s in a time before farming, before the Celtic God Lugh’s name ever reached anyones lips, before the story of Lugh’s foster mother Tailtiu, before any waves of invaders reached Ireland’s shores.
It’s the tradition of great gatherings of people that holds the threads connecting to the roots of the Sisterhood. People have gathered at late summer for countless generations, follow the thread back past Scotland’s Highland Games, back past the dawn of agriculture, back to when the great sheets of ice still ebbed and flowed on the land that is now Scotland.
You run through valleys, over streams up valleys and down. You know the way for it’s etched into every cell of your body.
Running the terrain is a dance between you and the landscape. There are old, old stories set into these pathways, these are the pathways earth magic flows through. The herd is a map, the ones which know the way with every hoof and heartbeat, communicating with those who ran these pathways before them and reaching out into the future to those who seek the path
— J Lally. Taken from ‘She Who Runs With the Herd’
The Old Antlered One – an art doll by Jude Lally
It is up by the Shrine of the Cailleach (near Glen Lyon, Scotland) where I dreamt of a great bone and stone shrine. A place the women visited as they shape-shifted to run with the herds. Those women were the original Sisterhood, the wise women of their people whose mysteries and rites were tied in with the birth and death of the reindeer.
Today women still gather, not knowing why they are mysteriously pulled by the way of reindeer, of the stories of the Old Antlered One. These gatherings still happen when women come together in circle in person, or through engaging conversations online and sometimes it is when we go on pilgrimage to the ancestral lands of our foremothers and place our feet on scared soil. It is a place where we often find through many paths, paths which often magically appear when we answer an ancient longing, a call which rings in our ears, sings from our blood and is knitted into our bones.
Rebuilding the Shrine
As each women brings her passion, her unique skills and creativity we rebuild the ancient shrines. When we sit by our altar or in circle, when we care for our neighbors and our community. When speak up for those who don’t have a voice, when we act for animals and the land – when we speak out against what is wrong.
She Who Runs With the herds – An art doll by Jude Lally
Each woman plays her part – some carry fire, kindled from ancient fires and so tend to the hearth and the candles. Other women have carried the ancient songs, some are called to roles such as guardian or gatekeeper and some remember the ancient script which they paint on banners. Others create glorious altars, some step into new roles, some are keepers of the drum, others dancer of the rattles, some are called to tell the old stories and together we create ritual and ceremony and dance between the worlds to ask the most ancient grandmothers for their insight and wisdom.
Together we support women and girls both in our community and around the world as we move towards a partnership culture which existed for far longer than this current war mongering dominator system has.
A Sustainable Connection
While each of us takes our own path we choose to walk together on the path forged by our foremothers – working in the ways of women’s wisdom, working with the tools we yield in the world. This is a path which roots us to the spiritual bedrock of the planet, a sustainable relationship which supports and empowers us as we weave creative acts of resistance in the face of the dominator societies.