Lammas or Lughnasadh is an ancient Saxon holiday and part of our eight sabbats as we travel along the wheel of the year. It usually falls on August 1st or August 2nd.
Lammas is the first of three harvest festivals which include Mabon and Samhain. This is the time of the grain harvest, and in ancient times, people took this time to share the bread they’ve waited all year to enjoy. It’s a time to appreciate the abundance around you. In the old ways, the very first bread was baked and shared with the whole village.
Symbols of Lammas include wheat sheaths, corn, and the corn dolly. It’s a time to enjoy the fruits of your labor and to appreciate what you have. And it’s a time to begin to prepare because it’s a reminder that summer is passing and the dark days of winter will soon be upon us.
There’s a myth of John Barleycorn, a ceremonial deity which mimics the process of brewing ale. A British folksong talks about the life of John Barleycorn, who is the personification of the cereal grain, which must be sacrificed at this time to mill the wheat into flour and to brew it into ale. The lyrics to this folksong vary, but it goes something like this:
There was three men come out o’ the west their fortunes for to try,
And these three men made a solemn vow, John Barleycorn must die,
They ploughed, they sowed, they harrowed him in, threw clods upon his head,
Til these three men were satisfied John Barleycorn was dead.
The idea of the sacrifice of the grain god who must die for the good of the people- only to be resurrected in the underworld later in the year- is a common theme in pagan myths around the world. In Greek mythology, Persephone, the daughter of the fertility goddess Demeter is captured by Hades and taken to the underworld. Demeter’s grief marks the beginning of a long period of barren fields, darkness, and cold, AKA autumn and winter. Persephone’s return marks the coming of Spring.
In Celtic mythology, there is the eternal struggle of the kings of holly and oak. At Litha, the oak king is at the height of his power, and from that point, his strength begins to wane, and the oak king begins to gain control. The oak king will dominate over Autumn and Winter.
Lammas is at the cusp of all these struggles and sacrifices, and it’s a time to appreciate the abundance of summer before the world plunges into darkness.
Around this time of year, many agricultural communities have fairs. This is an excellent time to attend fairs because its a way to honor the height of agriculture.
Some gem correspondences of this sabbat include aventurine for fortune, peridot for energy, and citrine for cleansing and healing. Herbs include aloe, corn stalk, calendula, frankincense, heather, and sunflower. Incense includes frankincense and sandalwood.
Decorate your altar with sunflowers, heather, wheat, and lavender. Dominant colors of the celebration are browns, oranges, and yellows. I keep a plastic loaf of bread on my altar to honor the sacrifice of the grain gods at this time.
I would also include bloodstone on the altar just for myself because even though here in Southern California, I don’t have to prepare myself for the long dark, cold winter, bloodstones represent courage and that’s what you need to prepare for the chaos and frenzy that is the holiday season. This was especially true when my husband used to work at a major retail chain, and he needed to fortify himself in preparation for Black Friday and beyond.
I wasn’t a practicing pagan when I was in school, but this is also a good sabbat to honor before many of us return to school after the summer break. Whether it’s kids going back to elementary school or high school, or you are returning to college for the autumn semester, it usually happens sometime in August so you’ll certainly need the energy and cleansing of Lammas to prepare you for that.
So enjoy your harvest, whatever harvest that may be, and remember to honor the eternal sacrifices and struggles of the divine if that’s something that’s part of your path.