We’re well into summer now, with our midsummer celebration having honored the middle of the summer season in mid-June. Now it’s August 1, and time to celebrate and honor the first harvest and closing of the summer season. Of course, the August 1st date is for those Pagans and Witches living in the Northern Hemisphere. For those who live in the Southern Hemisphere, the celebration occurs on February 1, whereas those in the Northern Hemisphere are honoring Candlemas at that time.
Lammas occurs when the Sun enters the constellation of Leo the Lion at its midpoint. Leo is prominent during the period of July 22 to August 22 of this year, while it will shift a day or two each year, but this doesn’t change the date of Lammas, which remains an August 1/February 1 celebration. The celebration falls during a time that is just about half way between Midsummer and Mabon (autumnal equinox).
The celebration marks the day where we observe the harvest of wheat every year. It is the first of the three harvests annually, including Mabon and Samhain. It is one of the four fire festivals in the Witch’s Wheel of the Year.
Here we show our gratitude for what we have planted in the earth as it brings us harvest now. We often share this harvest with others as a method of recognizing our connection to all. We live in reciprocity with all that is; what we bestow onto others, we bestow onto ourselves.
The reaping of the harvest is also a metaphorical idea where the goals we put into action in spring are now under review to consider the level of success achieved. We remain thankful for all that we harvest in the way of our goals and dreams.
At the same time, we reassess our path. If we are still moving forward with goals and dreams we stay the course. If we see only limited success or not success whatsoever, we tweak our plans, make adjustments, and carry on toward our ambitions with our intent never wavering.
Even when we must begin anew or change our original course entirely, we remain ever thankful for the experiences and life lessons along the way. We enter the celebration of the Harvest with the understanding that there are no wasted moments in life. Every event changes us, molds us into something new, and adds to our personal and spiritual growth.
The Harvest in Christian Traditions
In Christian practices, the ancient people would bring a loaf of bread to Church for an offering. The bread was made from the wheat from the latest crop. This wheat stems from the time it was harvested during Lammastide. This was a time in which people celebrated Saint Peter and his miraculous prison escape: This has Lammas on the same day as the St. Peter’s in Chains feast. Later, in the late 1960s, the day become one to recognize St. Alphonsus. The feast of First Fruits is a tradition once held by both Eastern and Western Church where the first fruits of the harvest were blessed on August 1 and again five days later.
Lammas: A Holiday With A Rich Harvest Of Names
Lammas corresponds to the Gaelic harvest festival of Lughnasadh (pronounced LOO-nah-sah). The celebration was practiced in the Isle of Man, Scotland, and Ireland on August 1. The tradition is now celebrated on the Sunday closest to August 1st in parts of Europe. There are many different titles for the holiday. The harvest festival is still a very popular observation. Wiccans observe it, but also Celtic Neopagans, the Manx, Scottish, and Irish. Some cultures and religious establishments have also aligned their holidays with the observation of Lammas:
- Great Britain: Gule of August
- Modern Irish: Lúnasa
- Scottish Gaelic: Lùnastal
- Manx Gaelic: Luanistyn
- Gaelic: Lughnasa
- Welsh: Gŵyl Awst
20th Century Name Changes Include:
- Crom Dubh Sunday
- Mountain Sunday
- Bilberry Sunday
- Garland Sunday
Lughnasadh is an ancient pagan festival honoring the god Lugh. In ancient times, the holiday was celebrated in hilly and mountainous regions outdoors. The festivities would include the Tailteann Games and other athletic competitions. Trading, matchmaking, and merriment with feasting were also common practices. A bull was sacrificed and the first harvested fruits (first fruits) including bilberries and fresh foods, were part of the religious practice. The ancient peoples would also visit a variety of holy wells in the region. A dance play ritual was performed where he god Lugh is depicted as taking defeating evil and seizing the harvest for humanity.
A Little English Lit Trivia – Fun Fact!
In Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the sweet Juliet is in her youth all of 14 years of age. Her birthday falls on Lammas Eve. Thus, it symbolizes a bit of foreshadowing in which Juliet never gets to enjoy the full harvest of her life.
The Saxons would bake the first sheaf of wheat into a ceremonial loaf of bread. The people would then consume it. The mythos aligning with grain is there a God of Grain that sacrifices his own life so that the others (all of the humanity) can be fed. His life is seen as a self-made sacrifice, but this same deity is reborn the following year.
Agricultural Gods And Goddesses/Dismemberment, Suffering, And Resurrections
Many agricultural deities and gods correspond with the death of its growth, but also the notion of dismemberment and later resurrection, usually in the Underworld. Think of gods like Osiris, who is an agricultural and fertility deity, who is dismembered by his own brother. Later, he has put together again with the help of goddesses Isis and Nephthys.
Even some of the agricultural Goddesses endure a period of suffering. Look to Demeter, who mourns the kidnapping of Persephone when she is taken to the underworld. She allows all the land to go barren until the release of her daughter. When Persephone is leaving Hades, she partakes of the Pomegranate. The bite makes her have to return to the Underworld every six months.
For that time, Demeter mourns Persephone and awaits her return. The land remains barren until that time. The dismemberment and resurrection are what describe the seasons, where half the year there is little to no growth or lost life and lush greenery in the summer months. It seems the stories of dismemberment or separation recount another tale (The Harrowing of Christ in Hell). This is where Christ, once resurrected, spends three days in Hell before, ascending to Heaven. The period of separation or time in the underworld is when the world is barren, but growth and resurrection are promised in the spring.
Lugh is the Sun King of Celtic myth. His light diminishes bit by bit following Midsummer and will continue to do so. The Winter or Holly King is now growing in power. At the first harvest, it is said the Winter King strikes at the harvest for the first time. The Celts celebrated August 1 with marriages, feast, competitions, and games. The celebration of Lughnasadh also involved the harvesting of grapes. Now, grapes are used for making what? You guessed it! The grapes are used for making wine. Now see if this sounds mildly familiar to you “Bread is the body, and wine is the blood,” is it not? This demonstrates the syncretic nature of Christianity as it integrates Pagan customs.
The colors of the season are golds, orange, and yellows representing the male aspect of the Divine. Red is a good color for representing the Divine Feminine. You can use colorful altar clothes, extra candles, and color coordinate your décor. The decorative elements in the altar room can be things like a wheat wreath, bundles of corn tied together and dried, and homemade corn dollies. Putting some of the first fruits in a bowl also makes a for a nice decorative touch. Deities corresponding with the holiday, at least images of them, can be put on display around your altar. If you have statutes of them and enough room on the altar, you can display them right on the altar top.
Altar Area Decorations
Making corn dollies allows you to add a few extra dolls to the décor surrounding your altar. Along with corn dollies, bunches of Indian Corn or Gem Corn with the kernels that look like a variety of colorful semi-precious gems. You can also make a wreath or two out of wheat shaft and hang it on the wall, the front door of the home, or anywhere you want to be reminded of the importance of the Lammas celebration. If you strap some wheat shafts together with string or twine and wrap the long stems with ribbon, you can make decorations that look like small besoms. The wheat shaft, once soaked in a bit of water, becomes flexible. You can use them to make bows and pentacles.
With corn husks, make corn dollies. Use the corn husks to make ribbons or bows for glass jars. If you are feeling crafty, create corn husk loops to create garland décor. It symbolizes the never-ending cycle of life, death, and rebirth.
This is the season to celebrate the harvest. Displaying the fruits of the harvests in fruit bowls or around the home is one tradition. Putting fresh herbs in jars or hanging out dried springs as decorations is another. Fruits, particularly grapes, and lovely jars of honey are excellent additions to décor. A cornucopia overflowing with fruits is a reminder of the plentiful season.
In addition to corn dolly and wheat décor, some practitioners choose this holiday to make a stang. The Stang is a forked staff, one you can use for circle casting, magick spells, and for the direction of will. The stang features at least two points, but many have three points so it looks like a fork or Trident. Thus, the stang is reminiscent of Poseidon, who carries the trident. The reason for the points is it is believed to heighten the sensitivity of the tool, just as it is believed horns have the power to heighten the sensitivity of the animal by intensifying intuition.
The stang has such a design that it is also reminiscent of protective weaponry, but this weaponry packs the punch of magick behind it! If you have one, a decorative dear skull, goat skull, or the skull of another power animal can be put on top of the staff as a decorative element, but also to retain some of the wisdom and power of the animal while honoring the very seat of its soul when it lived. Feathers and leather twine or red thread wrapping around the top of the staff also make for a meaningful decorative.
Foods For Lammas Celebration
The foods center on the harvest, but really you can have anything you choose for a feast. If you are making food for a large group, make sure you take in special dietary considerations. This day is excellent for a cookout weather providing. Steaks (if you are not feeding vegetarians) grilled corn on the cob, baked potatoes, and fresh salads make for the perfect feast. For libation during the ritual, bread and oil seasoned with rosemary or fresh Italian herbs are ideal.
Lammas is the time for making of Loaves of bread. If possible, you can use grains from the first harvest to do so. If you are not into making bread, you can make muffins, pastries, or other delicious treats. A fresh fruit salad inside a watermelon half is the perfect dessert treat for a hot August afternoon. Other treats you can consider for your feast include wild fresh berries, nuts, barley cakes, berry pies, fried summer squash, zucchini bread, apples, and rice with veggies are some excellent choices. Foods – Homemade bread, corn, potatoes, berry pies, barley cakes, nuts, wild berries, apples, rice, roasted lamb, acorns, crab apples, summer squash, turnips, oats, all grains, and all First Harvest foods. Traditional drinks are elderberry wine, ale, and meadowsweet tea.
With some left-over bread and beverages, use it to make an offering to the Divine, the natural world, and/or the world of fae.
Meadowsweet tea, ale, elderberry wine, and apple wine are some great beverages for adults. Juice, flavored water, cider, or sweat tea is excellent for those who cannot drink alcohol. Sparkling cider also makes a nice substitute.
Lammas Ritual And Magickal Correspondences
Animals: Calves, Roosters, and Stags
Colors: Light brown, green, orange, red, yellow, lavender, and gold.
Creatures of Myth: Centaur, Griffin, the Phoenix
Goddesses: Ceres, Demeter, Ishtar, Kore, Proserpina, and Persephone.
Gods: Baal, Hades, Apollo, Adonis, and Lugh.
Herbs: Vervain, Sunflower, Oak Leaves, Myrtle, Hollyhock, Heather, Frankincense, Fenugreek, Cyclamen, Cornstalks, Calendula, Aloes, and Acacia Flowers.
Incense: Sandalwood, Frankincense, Passionflower, Chamomile, Rosemary, Rose Hips, Rose, and Aloe
Plants: Wheat, Rye, Barley, Corn, and Lavender
Stones: Citrine, Peridot, Sardonyx, Aventurine, and Yellow Diamonds
Making A Mini Wicker Man
You can make a small man out of sticks and twigs. Put all you want to release into the mini Wicker Man by charging him to free you from some of the habits and outmoded ideas you might have. You can then burn the wicker man into the fire as a right of purification. Let the fire transform you. Think of the Phoenix and how it rises from its own ashes renewed.
Reattune To Nature
If you’ve been in need of grounding, take some time on Lammas day and walk through a local park or in a wooded area. Listen to the sounds of nature. Breathe in the fresh air. Let the sun rejuvenate you as it warms your skin. Feel the natural world around you. Recognize your part in the tapestry of life. Reconnect with the sounds, feelings, scents, and emotions the natural world evokes. Envision the Sun beaming down on you, cleansing your aura, mind, and body from any negativity and filling you up with positive, strong, healthy energies. Recharge and rejuvenate. Thank the nature spirits for the blessings they bestow. Ask Mother Earth for any special messages or teachings you should embrace now. If you see an animal, look to that animal as your guide. Find out what that totem means to you.
Lammas Rituals, Events, And Traditions
Along with a ritual to honor the God and Goddess, and to note the seasonal change, other rites can be performed on Lammas. Handfastings are common because summer time is so ideal for pagan weddings. Wiccanings, also called Paganings are rites that are akin to a baptism. However, in this ceremony, it only involves the blessing of the child. The child is not forced to become Wiccan when older and is free to choose a religion on their own. The ceremony is more about a promise of the community to lend support to the child. The parents who choose pagan practitioners to look after the child in a religious sense if something should happen to them and the child decides to pursue the pagan path. There is no guarantee of the child becoming pagan of Wiccan, but the ceremony celebrates the life of the child and the hoped for pursuit of the path in the future.
Initiations: Practitioners who have been pursuing the path for some time (a year and a day is the typical count), may be ready for initiation now. Lammas makes a wonderful day for such a ceremony to take place. Not only are you marking seasonal changes, the first harvest, and the plenty of the season, but you can also mark the spiritual growth of the practitioner.
Dedications: Those who want to commit to learning the ways of the craft might choose to dedicate on this day. Summertime makes it an exquisite option for those who want to commit to magickal and spiritual studies. It allows for the potential for outdoor rituals and celebrations. When the Sun is in the zodiac sign of Leo, it represents growth, healing, rejuvenation, and good luck.
Lammas is an old celebration in which pagans and witches honor and observe the blessings they receive in the first of three harvests. The fire festival is celebrated around the world in different ways. The key is to acknowledge the blessings one receives and to thank the Divine for such blessings. It’s a day of celebration, merriment, but also one in which the expression of gratitude is most important. Lammas is also another turn of the wheel and a point in time marking a period where one can again hone one’s life and spiritual path.