The time to reap what we’ve sown arrives at Lammas, or Lughnasadh, on August 1st. The word lammas may come from the Anglo-Saxon hlafmaesse, meaning Loaf Mass: the rites of the Old Gods denied them at this traditional time, on August 1 (or the first Sunday in August) people took bread to the church to be blessed. The other name, Lughnasadh, combines Lugh, Goidelic Sun-deity of the Tuatha De Danann, with nassad, which can mean a fair or assembly or even “binding together.”1
Some legends say Lugh invented Lughnasadh to honor His foster-mother, the agricultural goddess Tailtiu, who once spent a year clearing a huge tract of land near County Meath; Lugh later built Her burial cairn there. Annual competitive games were held on the field in Her honor and it was the preferred time and place for handfastings, perhaps to encourage the growing crops to also be vigorous and productive, or perhaps to formalize any human Beltane plantings that had proved fertile. Robert Graves, however, cites Lammas as deriving from Lugh-mass, a ritual of mourning for Lugh Himself, who died this day; the funerary games honor Him. Irish Lughnasadh rites once opened with mournful processions, led by a young man carrying a hoop-wreath — symbol of the departing sun? Since Lugh may connect linguistically to lux, the Latin word for light,2 a funeral is apropos: The days are already nearly an hour shorter that they were at Litha, the Summer Solstice, back in June.
Whatever Lammas’ etymology, all the fire energy and pounding that began with Brigid at Her smithy exactly six months ago are now focused on the grains as they’re ground to flour and baked into breads. Loaves in human shape become John Barleycorn, honored for his sacrifice. Also present is the Corn Dollie. To create her, choose an excellent ear of corn, perhaps with four perfect kernels at the tip, the Hopi’s preference for their Corn Mother.3 Peel back the husks (which become her skirts), braid her golden corn-silk hair and ornament her as befits a Corn Queen. Next spring she can become seed corn (which is the practical reason to pick the best ear you can find to “mother” the next year’s crop), or she can dwell in your home until you make your new Lammas Corn Dollie next August and then be interred like Tailtiu and Lugh at that ritual (perhaps with the crumbly remnants of the evening’s John Barleycorn) to bless your land.
Besides our sacramental consumption of John Barleycorn and perhaps His liquid variants, this is an excellent time to glory in the sheer beauty of Mother Earth’s generosity. Try encircling your altar with dry grains and their fragrant spice and floral counterparts. In her book Jambalaya, Luisah Teish suggests combinations such as cornmeal and bee pollen, millet and lavender, or rice and cloves.4 I’ve used rich red lentils and rose buds on some occasions, blue corn and star anise on others. The possibilities are endless and the effect is both aesthetic and visceral, evoking abundance on a satisfying gut level while truly delighting the senses. At ritual’s end, coveners take portions of these materials home to their own altars or kitchens.
At both Litha and Lughnasadh, we also ask for protection for the crops still in the fields: some folks believe weather workings are appropriate now. These are also traditional times for blessing one’s animals.5,6 If the time-honored technique of herding your critters between two raging bonfires doesn’t seem like a realistic option, try bringing their collars or food dishes into circle.
And to show the Deities at both festivals how their bountiful generosity is appreciated, we eat. All grain-based and fresh vegetable dishes are especially symbolic – and delicious – now. Celebrate diversity in your harvesting: seek out grains and produce grown from “heirloom” seeds rather than factory-farmed, mass-produced, genetically-engineered hybrids. Besides supporting ecologically crucial crop diversity, it’s a way of truly tasting what our ancestors planted, prayed for and ate in the distant past.7 Dress in harvest golds and greens, pour libations with a free hand and when you’re done, ground the energy graphically by recycling and composting anything that wasn’t consumed.
Lugh and John and all Your Grain Brothers, we mourn Your passing but honor this sacrifice on our behalf. Sunna, look kindly on our endeavors and let our harvests – both literal and metaphoric – be joyfully bountiful!
RITUAL IDEAS & QUESTIONS
– Make Corn-dollies
– Bake a grain-man of bread
– What are you currently harvesting in your life?
– What seeds are you carrying forward?
1. Steve Blamires, Glamoury: Magic of the Celtic Green World, (St. Paul: Llewellyn, 1995), p.271-8.
2. Robert Graves, The White Goddess, (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1974), p. 301.
3. Zsuzsanna E. Budapest, The Grandmother of Time, (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1989), p.160.
4. Luisah Teish, Jambalaya, (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985), p. 231.
5. Diane Stein, Casting the Circle, (Freedom: Crossing Press, 1990), p. 126.
6. Campanelli, Ancient Ways, p. 91.
7. National Research Council, Agricultural Crop Issues and Policies, (Washington: National Academy Press, 1993)
Previously published in The Hole in the Stone.