Originally written on August 1, 2020, updated 2023
We are in the middle of the dog days of summer, when the gardens are full of beautiful flowers, the fields are full of grain, and the harvest is approaching.
The hot days of August are upon us, much of the earth is dry and parched, but we know that the bright reds and yellows of the harvest season are just around the corner.
Corn has been planted, tended, harvested and consumed for millennia, and so it’s no wonder that there are myths about the magical properties of this grain. And this is nothing new: for our ancestors, the grain harvest was a cause for great celebration as a successful harvest meant families would be able to bake and store bread also through the winter.
If the grain was left in the fields for too long, or if the bread made from the grain was not baked in time, families might starve.
At Lammas it’s time to begin reaping what we have sown throughout the past few months, and recognize that the bright summer days will soon come to an end.
It is also a time of excitement and magic: the natural world is thriving around us, and yet the knowledge that everything will soon die looms in the background.
Not by chance this Sabbat, where many choose to celebrate the beginnings of the harvest, is about the cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth—the grain god dies, but will be reborn again in the spring.
In fact Lammas, sometimes called Lughnasadh or Lughnasad, is a pagan holiday and one of the eight Wiccan sabbats during the year.
Each sabbat marks a seasonal turning point, and this occurs on August 1, which is about halfway between the summer solstice (Litha) and the fall equinox (Mabon).
The word “Lammas” comes from the Old English phrase “hlaf-maesse”, which translates to “loaf mass.”
In early Christianity, the first loaves of the season were blessed by the church during mass and, because it is a grain holiday representing the first harvest, it’s a great time to get yourself into baking bread.
In early Ireland, it was a bad idea to harvest your grain any time before Lammas, as it meant that the previous year’s harvest had run out early, and that was a serious failing in agricultural communities. However, on August 1, if the first sheaves of grain were cut by the farmer, by nightfall his wife had made the first loaves of bread of the season.
And not only in Ireland, in our modern world, it’s often easy to forget the trials and tribulations our ancestors had to endure.
For us, if we need a loaf of bread, we simply go to the local grocery store. If we run out, it’s no big deal, as we just go and get more.
However, when our ancestors lived, hundreds and thousands of years ago, the importance of harvesting and processing of grain was very different and taking care of one’s crops meant the difference between life and death.
There are a number of different ways that bread itself can be incorporated into a ritual or magical setting.
In Yorkshire, for instance, it was believed that if a loaf of bread failed to rise, it meant there was an undiscovered corpse nearby.
Another custom says that sailors should take a hot cross buns on their travels to prevent shipwreck, while a cross on the bun comes from a superstition that marking it so would prevent the Devil from getting into the baked goods.
In parts of Appalachia, it’s important to watch when you slice a loaf of bread for the first time because if you slice through a hole in the bread, it means someone is going to die. It is also well-known that if you put a slice of bread into a cradle, it will protect the infant from disease.
For many cultures, the breaking of bread is also a symbol of peace and hospitality. Once you have welcomed someone into your home and you have eaten bread together, you’re far less likely to kill one another.
In parts of Norway, boys and girls who share bread from the same loaf are destined to fall in love and marry.
In any case, depending on your person, there are many different ways you can celebrate Lammas, but typically the focus is on either the early harvest aspect or the celebration of the Celtic god Lugh, Master of Skills and the god of craftsmanship.
He is skilled in many things, including blacksmithing, wheel making, and fighting, but there is some discrepancy as to why Lugh is honored on this day. Some tales say that this is the date of his wedding feat, while others say it is because he held a harvest fair in honor of his foster mother, Tailtiu, on this date.
Either way this is a traditional time of year for craft festivals, and for skilled artisans to peddle their wares. In medieval Europe, guilds would arrange for their members to set up booths around their village, festooned with bright ribbons and fall colors.
Lugh is also known in some traditions as the patron of bards and magicians but, in addition to Lugh, there are many other deities connected to the early grain harvest. For istance, in English folklore, John Barleycorn is a character who represents the crop of barley harvested each autumn.
It’s the time when the first grains are ready to be harvested and threshed, when the apples and grapes are ripe for the plucking, and we’re grateful for the food we have on our tables.
This holiday can be celebrated either as a way to honor the god Lugh, or as a celebration of the harvest itself.
But, whatever you choose to do, this is the right season for rebirth and renewal.
Images from web – Google Research