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by Rita Foust
August 1st marks the Celtic holiday of Lughnasadh (pronounced loo-na-sa), which is the beginning of the grain harvest. The importance of grain to life is evident in virtually every deity structure in every religion on Earth. The entire preparation of grain from seed to harvest parallels the life-in-death and death-in-life aspects of the Great Goddess, Mother Earth.
Lughnasadh marks the last heyday (hayday) of the Sun God (Lugh). It's the time of the Barley Moon, a time when the symbolic aspects of the life-sustaining elements of grain spill over into every part of life. In ancient times the last chaff of wheat or grain to be cut was kept and crafted into a corn doll. At Lughnasadh, she is called Corn Mother. In the spring, she becomes Corn Bride, the Maiden Goddess Bride. She is Macha, the Triple Goddess (Maiden, Mother, Crone), who presides over the Celtic calendar of holidays. While the various Celtic Gods wax and wane in power, Macha retains her strength and superiority in all Her aspects.
In a traditional meditation during Lughnasadh, participants are encouraged to visualize themselves on the back of a crow (an important member of the Celtic fetish family), flying over fields bright with sunlight. People are singing as they rake the hay into mounds, and you are so close you can smell the fresh hay and hear the harvesters' song. The Sun of Lugh is high in the sky, but His strength is waning. As you alight in a nearby oak tree, there is a sense of peace and security as you are wrapped in Macha's wings. Rest. You are in Her arms, the wings of the Mother, and basking in the warmth of the Father's rays.
This is a time of robust health and erotic energy. The ancient tribes met during this time of the year to gather news, settle any disputed arguments, arrange marriages, and show off strength and skill. As might be expected, celebrations are held outside, under the bright blue sky, and in addition to sporting events and horse races, there is mighty feasting.
The source for this account, Laurie Cabot, in "Celebrate the Earth," gives many ideas on how to celebrate this festival. "We bring corn, fruits and vegetables, baskets of bread and bunches of summer flowers to our outdoor magic space. We light gold and yellow candles, and add one candle each to represent the colors of the rainbow. A mixture of herbs ruled by the sun are placed within easy reach...You will need any or all of the following sacred woods: holly, oak, hawthorn, ash, willow, alder, fir, furze, heather, aspen and yew." In describing the all-important "what to wear," Cabot continues, "many who attend come dressed in white or yellow... Some of us paint our faces with sunflowers, adorn our hair with flowers and ribbons..." And, as might be expected, "The important part of enjoying a magically made meal is to thank the Goddesses and Gods for the eternal bounty of the land and then to eat, drink and make merry!"
July 31st Lughnasadh / Lammas
This day originally coincided with the first reapings of the harvest. It was known as the time when the plants of spring wither and drop their fruits or seeds for our use as well as to ensure future crops.
As autumn begins, the Sun God enters his old age, but is not yet dead. The God symbolically loses some of his strength as the Sun rises farther in the South each day and the nights grow longer.
The Christian religion adopted this theme and called it 'Lammas ', meaning 'loaf-mass ', a time when newly baked loaves of bread are placed on the altar. An alternative date around August 5 (Old Lammas), when the sun reaches 15 degrees Leo, is sometimes employed by Covens.
Apples, Grains, Breads and Berries.
Herbs and Flowers:
All Grains, Grapes, Heather, Blackberries, Sloe, Crab Apples, Pears.
Aloes, Rose, Sandalwood.
As summer passes, many Pagans celebrate this time to remember its warmth and bounty in a celebrated feast shared with family or Coven members. Save and plant the seeds from the fruits consumed during the feast or ritual. If they sprout, grow the plant or tree with love and as a symbol of your connection with the Lord and Lady. Walk through the fields and orchards or spend time along springs, creeks, rivers, ponds and lakes reflecting on the bounty and love of the Lord and Lady.
The year is 1100. The date is August 1. The monks in
the abbey at Gloucester are celebrating the holy-day of St. Peter in
Chains. One of the monks wakes from a strange dream in which God promises
to strike down the wicked King who has abused the Holy Church. His
superior, Abbot Serlo, on hearing of the dreams sends a warning to the
King, William the Red, who has oppressed all of England with taxes and
disgusted many with his licentiousness and blasphemy. Red, as he is
called, receives the message the following day while preparing to indulge
in one of his favorite sports, hunting, in the New Forest. Although there
are no longer any people dwelling in the New Forest — they were all
cleared out by Red's father, William the Conqueror — there are rumors
that it's a hotbed of pagan activity. And August 2 is an important pagan
holy-day. The Saxons call it Lammas, the Loaf-Mass. William the Red laughs
at the warning from the monks and goes out hunting. A short time later, he
is dead, struck in the chest by a stray arrow, and his brother, Henry, who
was in the hunting party is riding hot-foot for Winchester and the crown.
Honoring the Grain God or Goddess
Bake a loaf of bread on Lammas. If you've never made
bread before, this is a good time to start. Honor the source of the flour
as you work with it: remember it was once a plant growing on the mother
Earth. If you have a garden, add something you've harvested--herbs or
onion or corn--to your bread. If you don't feel up to making wheat bread,
make corn bread. Or gingerbread people. Or popcorn. What's most important
is intention. All that is necessary to enter sacred time is an awareness
of the meaning of your actions.
Like all holidays, Lammas calls for a feast. When your dough figure is baked and ready to eat, tear him or her apart with your fingers. You might want to start the feast with the Lord's Prayer, emphasizing the words "Give us this day our daily bread." The next part of the ceremony is best done with others. Feed each other hunks of bread (or gingerbread people or popcorn), putting the food in the other person's mouth with words like "May you never go hungry," "May you always be nourished," "Eat of the bread of life" or "May you live forever." Offer each other drinks of water or wine with similar words. As if you were at a wake, make toasts to the passing summer, recalling the best moments of the year so far.
Another way to honor the Grain Goddess is to make a corn doll. This is a fun project to do with kids. Take dried-out corn husks and tie them together in the shape of a woman. She's your visual representation of the harvest. As you work on her, think about what you harvested this year. Give your corn dolly a name, perhaps one of the names of the Grain Goddess or one that symbolizes your personal harvest. Dress her in a skirt, apron and bonnet and give her a special place in your house. She is all yours till the spring when you will plant her with the new corn, returning to the Earth that which She has given to you.
Food for Thought
Lammas is a festival of regrets and farewells, of
harvest and preserves. Reflect on these topics alone in the privacy of
your journal or share them with others around a fire. Lughnasad is one of
the great Celtic fire-festivals, so if at all possible, have your feast
around a bonfire. While you're sitting around the fire, you might want to
tell stories. Look up the myths of any of the grain Gods and Goddesses
mentioned above and try re-telling them in your own words.