August 1 marks one of the eight sabbats in the Wheel of the Year. Lughnasadh (pronouced LOO-nuh-suh) is Gaelic and marks the first of three harvest festivals, the other two being Autumn Equinox (Mabon) and Samhain (Halloween). Lughnasadh means “marriage of Lugh.” Lugh is the Celtic god of the sun, vegetation, and cultivated fields. The marriage means both harvesting and literally handfasting. It is the Festival of First Fruits when thanks is giving for the fertility of the fields. This is when the first bread is baked from the new harvest and blessed. As the harvest is completed, so does the death of Lugh and it is up to Mother Goddess to provide the bounty of the earth.
Lammas (loaf-mass day) is the English-speaking and Christianized version of the holiday. The meaning of the holiday is much the same. In many parts of England, instead of offering the first bread to the God and Goddess, it was offered to one's landord instead. (Talk about commercializing a holiday!)
Why is Lammas/Ludnasadh Celebrated During Summer?
This is a question I have always kind of wondered every year but never took the time to research. I decided to find the answer this time. It turns out it all has to do with the timing of fruits, vegetables, and grains. I suppose the reason I have never known this is because I'm not exactly the best garden witch. I can't even keep a houseplant alive. Although I do vaguely remember whenever my grandfather started to harvest the wheat on our farm was right around the time that I started school.
I decided to look up what fruits, vegetables, and grains are harvested in August. I wasn't surprised to learn this varied by region but I was able to find a general list of fruits and vegetables here. Spring wheat is planted from April through May and harvested mid-August to mid-September. (Looks like my memory of when Grandpa harvested wheat was spot on.)
According to Paganwiccan.about.com, in Ireland, wheat wasn't harvested before Lammas. If it was that meant the previous year's harvest was insufficient and a failing of the farmers. Just as farmers couldn't harvest too early, harvesting too late was even more devastating. If the crops are not harvested in time for the colder season, families would starve.
There's More to Harvest Festivals Than Just Celebrating
One of the benefits of learning about the fruits, vegetables, and grains behind the harvest festivals is that we learn more about the importance of timing in Mother Nature. Many, like me, try hard as we might, but we just can't cultivate a green thumb. I think those of us that do not grow our own food sometimes take for granted the skill, know-how, and hard work that it takes to be a farmer or gardener. We don't have to wait for the tomatoes in the garden to ripen or ready the wheat for baking, we just go to the market to buy tomatoes or bread. Harvest festivals are an excellent time to learn about what goes into growing and harvesting the foods we eat. Even if we don't learn enough to grow things ourselves, we at least take the time to appreciate the hard work that goes into it.
There are some great things that those of us without a green thumb can do. One thing is to learn when different fruits and vegetables are in season. Another thing is to learn how to tell when a fruit is ripe and when vegetables have gone bad. I'm sure you already know this, but buying organic and as buying local are great for your health and the environment.
However, celebrating the harvest is certainly part of Lammas/Ludnasadh so here are some ideas:
Starhawk describes the period between the first harvest and the end of harvest as a time of waiting, working hard to bring things to fruitation, and uncertainty on whether or not they will bring reward. In The Spiral Dance, she suggests using two different breads in ritual. The first is a bread figure which is to represent what you fear. It is not to be eaten, but rather cast into a fire so that you may free yourself from your fear. The second bread item is a star, symbolizing hope and what you would like to harvest in the coming season. (Reminds me of The Star tarot card.) This is to be eaten so that you take what you want to harvest in.
Crafts and Decorations
Silver Ravenwolf has a great offbeat idea in her book Solitary Witch. She suggests taking pictures of the country or other scenery to make a magical collage of thanksgiving. You could also scrapbook, paint, or draw this collage and display it in your home. I would suggest in your kitchen, the hearth, or over your altar. This would make a wonderful family project! You could also include images of what you would like to "harvest" in the coming season.
Scott Cunningham and David Harrington, authors of The Magical Household, suggest making a corn dolly (also called kirn babies). If you can’t or don’t want to make one, they can be purchased. The corn dolly is a personification of the Mother Goddess and is to be treasured and guarded until another one is made at Lughnasadh the following year. It will bring your home luck. In honor of the first fruits, he suggests making and eating a berry pie.
Visit this site to read about How to make a corn dolly
Games for Children
Sliver Ravenwolf also has a great idea for a children’s game during your celebration. Create an outdoor scavenger hunt. Make the list of items all part of a simple spell for the children to cast once they have gathered all of the items. This can also can be an opportunity to teach children magickal correspondances and basic spell casting skills.
There are so many more great ideas for celebrating Lammas/Lughnasadh at PaganismWicca.About.com. What I especially like is the website has many articles for those that focus on celebrating the Celtic god Lugh. I tend to focus more on the harvest aspect so I don't include as much about Lugh.
For those of you that love tarot, there is a great Lammas Celebration Spread at Tarotize.com.
I hope you all have a Blessed Lughnasadh/Lammas and everything you hope to harvest comes to fruition! And don't forget, August 1 is also the full moon! I'll be posting about this full moon soon. I didn't want to make this post too long. Blessed be!