Thursday, August 1, 2013

Lammas - Traditions and Celebration

Merry Lammas everyone! So just like the Summer Solstice I will be posting some traditional celebration that Pagans would do to make this day even better (incense, colors, food, etc.). Since I have no idea as to what Lammas is about or required, I'll be using the information given by Doug and Sand Kopf to help give an explanation for this sacred day. Don't forget to put important information in your Book of Shadows and, with out any more delay, let's get started!

Lammas, the festival of the First Fruits of the Harvest, is the first festival of the Waning Year. It is celebrated on July 31, while the climate (in the United States) is essentially still Summer. Never-the-less, technically, Lammas is the first day of Autumn.

If anything, the days are hotter now than they were in early Summer. These are the best days for trips to the beach and back yard barbecues. Meat prices are lower now, especially beef. This is the time to enjoy a thick steak. The really good sweet corn, the kind that melts in your mouth, has just begun to arrive in the supermarket. Since the seasonal changes at this time are more subtle, it is even more important that we celebrate the festival. We need to bring the cycles of the Universe into manifestation within our own minds, by demonstrating what we may not see.

The mental/emotional indications of the changing seasons are more obvious now than the physical ones. The air is filled with anticipation of the coming fall, of the approaching return to school and of the cooler weather to come. It is also a time of sadness, as the knowledge sets in that the good times of Summer will soon be over. There is a bit of "haste to have fun" before it comes to an end.

Lammas takes its name from the Old English "hlaf," meaning "loaf" and "maesse," meaning feast. Lammas has often been taken to mean Lamb-mass, because on August 1, the next day, is the Feast of St. Peter's Chains, at which lambs are taken to church for blessing. (Can't you just picture a priest of the early Church saying, "Lammas? We can do that HERE! Just tell them to bring their lambs to Church!).

This festival is also called "Lugnasadh" (Loo-nah-sah), which has an entirely different meaning. The element "nasadh" relates to the Gaelic, "to give in marriage," and so would mean the "Marriage of Lug," rather than Lugh's Mass, which is a common interpretation. There is also some debate as to who the bride is, if there is one. Some authorities favor Tailltiu (Lugh's foster mother) and others favor Eriu, i.e., Ireland, herself.
However, no mention is made of Blodeuwedd, the Lady of Flowers created for Lugh by Math and Gwydeon, the ultimate cause of his death. One clue to the identity of this particular bride may be that "handfastings" (marriage for a year and a day) are still called "Taillten Marriage", and many are performed at Lammas Fairs.

Although we do not celebrate a marriage at this time, preferring the loaf-feast concept, it is interesting to note that July 31 is exactly nine months prior to Beltane, which was once celebrated as the beginning of the New Year.

Another common interpretation of "Lughnasadh", perpetuated by Christian historians, is "Lugh's Games" and some say it is a festival created by Lugh, in honor of the memory of Tailltiu.
The Lammas festival was adopted by the Christian Church in 1843, and today, in England, people decorate churches with sheaves and corn dollies, celebrating the old Pagan holiday, as they sing "Bringing in the Sheaves" and make offerings of corn to the Church.

In some areas, Lammas was a time of sacrifice. Sacrifices at Lammas were made to thank the Deities for the First Fruits and to guarantee an abundant Harvest. The victim was often the king, who was God Incarnate to his people. Sometimes a substitute king, a fool or "scapegoat", was sacrificed in the king's stead.
The last recorded sacrifice of a king of England may have occurred at Lammas, in the year 1100. King William II (Rufus the Red, or William Rufus) rejected the relatively new Christian beliefs, and openly declared himself Pagan. His death in a "hunting accident" on August 2, 1100 c.e., is believed by many historians to have been a case of the traditional sacrifice being disguised for the sake of the Christian priests.
Until recent years, in Scotland, the first cut of the Harvest was made on Lammas Day, and was a ritual in itself. The entire family must dress in their finest clothing and go into the fields. The head of the family would lay his bonnet (hat) on the ground and, facing the Sun, cut the first handful of corn with a sickle. He would then put the corn Sun-wise around his head three times while thanking the God of the Harvest for "corn and bread, food and flocks, wool and clothing, health and strength, and peace and plenty." This custom was called the "Iolach Buana."

In the British Isles, the custom of giving the First Fruits to the Gods evolved into giving them to the landlord. Lammas is now the traditional time for tenant farmers to pay their rent. Thus, Lammas is seen as a day of judgment or reckoning. From this practice comes the phrase "--at latter Lammas", meaning "never", or "not until Judgment Day."

An old custom that can be re-created today is the construction of the Kern-baby or corn maiden at Lammas. This figure, originally made from the first sheaf, would be saved until spring, then ploughed into the field to prepare for planting. (The Maiden thus returns to the field at Spring.) Most of us, today, have no first sheaf nor shall we prepare a field at Spring, but as a means of adding continuity to our festivals, the maiden can be made from the husks of corn served at the Lammas Feast, then saved for use as a brideo'g at Candlemas.
To the Celts, Lammas was, of course, one of the four Great Fire Festivals, i.e., cross-quarter festivals. The custom of lighting bonfires to add strength to the powers of the Waning Sun was wide-spread. Brands from the Lammas fires were kept in the home, through the Winter, as protection against storms and lightning, and against fires started by lightning. The Need-Fire seems to have been an integral part of most Fire Festivals, but was not limited to them. Since the ashes from such a fire had properties of protection, healing, and fertility, a Need-Fire might be lit at any time a "need" for such things existed.

Lammas Fairs, held annually throughout the British Isles, still exist today. At the Exeter Lammas Fair, a large, stuffed glove, decorated with flowers and ribbons, is fasted atop a pole and carried about the fairgrounds. It is then placed on the roof of the Guild Hall to signify the opening of the fair. A gift of money for gloves (to servants) was also traditional at Lammastide. One source tells us the glove represents a unit of measure, indicating a fair rate of exchange. Another compares it to the Egyptian "open hand," representing friendship and fortune.

We would like to add what seems an obvious theory, but for which we have no source: The name Lugh-Lamhfhada means "Lugh of the Long Hand," and Llew-Law Gyffes, another name for the same God (Welsh), means "The Lion with the Steady Hand." It seems to us that the glove might simply be a symbol for Lugh, with whom the festival has often been associated (as in Lughnasadh).

That Lammas, traditionally, is a merry time, a time of Fairs, Handfastings, and Feasts is expressed in the following poem by Robert Burns.
It was on a Lammas night,
When corn rigs are bonie,
Beneath the moon's unclouded light,
I held away to Annie:
The time flew by, wi tentless heed,
Till 'tween the late and early;
Wi' sma' persuasion she agreed
To see me thro' the barley.
The sky was blue, the wind was still,
The moon was shining clearly;
I set her down, wi' right good will,
Amang the rigs o'barley
I ken't her heart was a' my ain;
I lov'd her most sincerely;
I kissed her owre and owre again,
Among the rig o' barley.
I locked her in my fond embrace;
Her heart was beating rarely:
My blessings on that happy place,
Amang the rigs o'barley.
But by the moon and stars so bright,
That shone that hour so clearly!
She ay shall bless that happy night,
Amang the rigs o'barley.
I hae been blythe wi' Comrades dear;
I hae been merry drinking;
I hae been joyfu' gath'rin gear;
I hae been happy thinking:
But a' the pleasures e'er I saw,
Tho three times doubl'd fairley
That happy night was worth then a'.
Among the rig's o' barley.
Corn rigs, an' barley rigs,
An' corn rigs are bonie:
I'll ne'er forget that happy night,
Among the rigs wi' Annie.
Lammas is often celebrated as the Wake for the Sacred King. As you know, a Wake is a Celebration of Life, not a time to grieve. And Lammas is a joyous time of celebration. Feast to your heart's content, sing, dance and make merry. Light your Need-Fires and make your Kern-babies. You'll "ne'er forget that happy night" you celebrated in The Old Ways! Blessed Be!!!

You will notice, after reading this article, that the authors celebrated Lammas on July 31. Usually Lammas is celebrated August 1, but it can run about July 31-August 2, it just mainly needs to be around the end of July and the beginning of August. The authors also mentioned Handfasting, a term that I don't believe any of you are familiar with, but my next post will explain it, so do not worry! Now that we've covered the necessary information for Lammas Traditions, we'll get started on the kind of foods you should eat, colors you should wear, all that fun stuff!

Lammas Food and Decorations


Lammas Foods

Traditional foods for Lammas include the fruits and vegetables peaking in late summer to early fall.  However, primary emphasis falls on grains and things made from grains.  Meat does not really figure into the usual Lammas fare — though you may serve some if you wish — so this holiday is ideal for vegetarians.  You can find Lammas recipes online or in cookbooks such as Cooking To The Wheel of the Year or The Farmer’s Market Cookbook: Seasonal Dishes Made from Nature’s Freshest Ingredients.  Plan your potluck feast in advance and enjoy some Lammas recipes from Fieldhaven.  

Grains form the mainstay of Lammas food, especially wheat, oats, barley, and rye.  Whole, cracked, or rolled grains appear in stuffings and other dishes.  Bread and other foods made from grains also stand out on a Lammas table.  Kneading and baking bread is a traditional Lammas activity.Sweet corn technically comes from a grain (corn is a grass) but is eaten as a vegetable.  Yellow or white corn is best for this holiday, especially if you’re tying into to the Native American “Green Corn Festival” holidays.  Sweet corn begins converting sugar to starch as soon as it leaves the stalk.  This suggests an interesting relay race: The first bunch of people yank the ripe ears off the stalks and run to the shuckers, who shuck the ears as fast as possible then hand them off to the next folks who run them to the kitchen, where cooks dunk them straight into pots of boiling water.

Seasonal fruits include anything ripe at this time, most notably blackberries.  The earliest “dessert” apple and pear varieties also ripen in early August; these are not for storage or canning, but are sweet delicate fruits intended to be eaten immediately.  Serve them by themselves, in fruit salads, or sliced with crackers and a sharp cheese such as aged white cheddar.

Alcoholic beverages figure into many Lammas myths.  Chief among these are beer and ale, which come from grains.  Fruit wines, such as blackberry or elderberry wine, celebrate the dark fruits of late summer.  However, some versions of Lammas tie into the wine gods and the worship of grapes. Mead, made from summer honey, also appears in Lammas festivals.  For safety’s sake, serve alcohol in moderation, after food — and make sure that designated drivers are available.

Lammas Decoration Ideas

Your decorations should support and enhance your theme.  One strong motif with variations will usually work better than unrelated motifs all competing with each other.  For more ideas, flip through books such as Lammas: Celebrating the Fruits of the First Harvest and Sabbat Entertaining: Celebrating the Wiccan Holidays with Style.

Colors: Gold and yellow predominate, the colors of grain.  Brown, tan, and white also play in.  Other food colors — such as tomato red, leaf green, and berry purple — may be appropriate.  For a Lughnassadh ritual, consider bronze and gold, the colors of Lugh.

Incense: Corn and safflower both tie into the grain theme.  Rose hips bring another seasonal reference, as roses are in fruit at this time.  Frankincense and sandalwood relate to spirituality.  You can also make your own incense or essential oil blends inspired by online recipes.

Music: Lammas music is harvest music, heavy on the beat, so drums are especially appropriate.  Strings, especially harps and guitars, are also popular as people sing along to them.  Consider seasonal songs like Lammas Leaves and The Lammas Tide or albums such as Circle of the SeasonsA Garland Of SongThe Music of Gwydion, and The Wheel of the Year: Thirty Years with the Armstrong Family.

Altar tools for Lammas have an emphasis on blades, particularly the sickle or bolline, but also the athame.  You may also want to make corn dollies or corn-husk dolls for altar decoration or for use in ritual.

Grain sheaves characterize the harvest season.  Wheat sheaves are bundles of wheat set upright for collection.  Corn tipis are made from cut corn stalks after the ears have been removed, stacked together in a cone.

Cornucopia is a horn-shaped basket filled with autumn fruits and vegetables.  It means “horn of plenty” and represents the abundance of the harvest season.  Earth goddesses and gods sometimes carry one as a symbol of their power.

I hope everyone has a great Lammas! If you have any questions, feel free to comment them below! Blessed be!

Information for this post came from and When celebrating Lammas, make sure that you act responsibly and don't have too much fun.