Lammas: Celebrating the Wiccan Festival of First Harvest

by JoHarrington

Lughnasadh occurs exactly half a year after Imbolc. What happened to all of those seeds that you planted then?

It's a time of reckoning. If we kept the files and bugs away from our crops and selves, then now is the moment of truth.

Will we get a good harvest? The early sheaths are being tied; the first results are in. Our storehouses are beginning to be filled. These are our wares for market. The start of our provisions for the winter.

The wheel is turning towards the darkness and we would do well to heed it. But not today. Not under the last warm rays of summer.

What is the Wiccan Lammas?

An introduction to one of the Eight Sabbats in the Wiccan Wheel of the Year.

This celebration is marked around July 31st - August 1st every year. Many begin on the nearest Sunday or new moon.

There are many names for this Sabbat, but the two most common are Lammas and Lughnasadh.

Lammas is the Anglo-Saxon name. It's pronounced exactly as might be expected - lamb-mass. Many Wiccans use this word, slotting it into the otherwise Gaelic Wheel of the Year without blinking.

However, the rest prefer to keep things constant, even when faced with a word as intimidating as Lughnasadh. It is pronounced Loo-nass-uh.  Not too frightening, when you know how!

The reason for all the names is that many cultures have an agricultural festival around this time. It's when the crops are first harvested, therefore the Pagans can't claim it exclusively.

This is a big undertaking, which involves more people than ordinarily work the land.  Volunteers are pulled in from the local towns and villages. Nothing does that better than the chance of a party at the other end. 

Welcome to the first of the harvest festivals in the Wiccan (and agricultural) year.

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Lughnasadh on Wikipedia

Lughnasadh (pronounced LOO-nə-sə; Irish: Lúnasa; Scottish Gaelic: Lùnastal; Manx: Luanistyn) is a traditional Gaelic holiday celebrated on 1 August in the northern hemisphere and 1 February in the southern. It originated as a harvest festival, corresponding to the Welsh Calan Awst and the English Lammas.

Lughnasadh by Damh the Bard

For those not great at Gaelic, Damh is pronounced Dave. You're welcome.

Pagan Music for Lammas

Buy these tunes to provide a wonderful soundtrack for your Lughnasadh celebrations. They are all about this Sabbat.

Have you got Provisions for the Dark Times Ahead?

Lammas is the time when our ancestors really needed to start building their foodstock. It's an operation around thinking ahead.

Imagine your world without shops and electricity.  No radiators.  No light-bulbs.  No nipping to the supermarket for the weekly food provisions.

You have to prepare right now for several months ahead. There might be times when it's too dangerous to even leave the house.

In short, it's like stocking up in preparation for the Zombie Apocalypse.

Living dead aside, this is precisely the situation which our ancestors would have faced. At this time every year, knowing eyes would be glancing over the fields. The minds behind them would have been making calculations.

How great was the growing this year?  Did the summer rains and plague of insects destroy too much of it?  When the harvest is in, will it be enough to feed everyone until next year?  And will there be any surplus to trade in for other things?

The answers to these questions dictate what happens at Lammas. Not only do the first crops have to be harvested, but they then have to be dealt with.  They have to be preserved or sold on. A bumper crop is going to help no-one, if it's then allowed to rot in a barn.

Local Lughnasadh gatherings would have taken place to bring it in. But then there were the huge gatherings too.  Tribes from all over a vast region would meet in the fairs. Those from coastal areas would be swopping fish for wheat grown in valleys. Forest truffles would be exchanged for corn from the plains. Variety truly became the spice of life.

And, of course, these gatherings also became wonderful opportunities for young couples to meet.  For this reason, Lammas has a reputation akin to Beltane for babies born nine months on.

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Lugh and the Sacrificial Lammas King

Before everyone starts panicking about Wicker Men, may I point out that the God - aka Green Man - is also the Corn King. Do you want this harvest or not?

The Lugh of Lughnasadh is a God. He variously defeated, or is the son/grandson of, the ancient Celtic Father God, Balor/Belor/Baal.

Everything that we know about Lugh tells us that he was a catch for any young lady. Beautifully handsome, skilled in a range of things, brilliant in all of his endeavors.

His name turns up all over the place in Great Britain and Ireland. Most famously it is in Lugh's Dun, better known as London.

Those great fairs at Lughnasadh weren't just about exchanging winter provisions, or finding a mate. They were also a time for tribes to demonstrate their prowess and skill in other things too. Alongside the craft-working and weapon forging, there were shows of strength and tournaments.

Therefore, it is with a wry smile that I note, at the time of writing, the world's focus upon the Olympic Games in London. The opening ceremony occurred around Lammas too. Danny Boyle orchestrated a huge display of all it meant to be British. It's purely coincidental, but very much plays into the celebrations that would have been held in Lugh's name.

But there was a darker side too.  If Lugh represented the great abundance of ripe crops, then he had to die.  Who killed the corn king?  The grim reaper did.

There have been many hints that this sacrifice wasn't always symbolic. If a king was the living embodiment of his country, and the harvest wasn't good, then something had to give.

A persistent rumor has it that William Rufus, son of William the Conqueror, died in this way.  He was killed in the New Forest, with an arrow to the lung.  Later Anglo-Saxon chroniclers added the name of Walter Tirel (aka Tyrrell) as his assassin.

Though there is absolutely no historical evidence to state that William II was a Pagan, the date is telling.  He died on August 2nd 1100, which is during Lammas. He was king and he died in the depths of the forest. 

The country-people at the time would have made the connection, even if the nobles did not.

Lughnasadh Greeting Cards

Buy a card for this Sabbat to hand to your Pagan friends. They will appreciate the thought.

New York's Temple of Astral Light Celebrates Lughnasadh

This video was filmed on August 5, 2006. It demonstrates perfectly how much fun this Sabbat can be.

How Witches Celebrate Lughnasadh

We will be looking back at Imbolc, then evaluating where our lives took us in the intervening six months.

Driving out yesterday, I viewed a scene that was pure Lammas.

A farm shop invited anyone to come and pick their own strawberries. Whole families were bent over the rows of green and red. Their pallets were being filled in the time honored fashion - one for the tub, one for the mouth.

In the next field along, part of it was allowed to fallow into meadow.  Poppies swayed between the tall grasses. 

Beyond them, whole tracts of hillside were turned vibrant yellow with cereal crops. It all looked beautiful in the sunshine. The sky was blue, with those fluffy white clouds, which make you want to lie there and dream for a while.

It's times like these that you want to give thanks for your life.  Just for being alive, in all of this abundance of nature. It is no accident therefore that harvests are interlinked with thanksgiving. That is a huge feature of Lughnasadh too.

But we have to be careful not to dictate too much about this festival. There's nothing set in stone throughout the Wiccan world. Each coven and individual hedge witch may approach it differently.

It's about the tribe.  The local area.  The place in which you are and the provisions that you need for winter.  All of that may change from person to person, family to family, region to region.

No doubt all will be looking towards the God, who must die right at the height of His vitality, in order to bring the harvest home.  All will be nodding towards the Goddess too, pregnant with the hope of next year, as She prepares to become the Dark Mother. 

It is beautiful, hot and fertile out there. It is right on the brink of dying.  Autumn is so close.  The winter is right behind.  But there is time yet to fill your cupboards.  Time yet to ensure your survival; and to give thanks and dream.

More Articles About the Wiccan Wheel of the Year

Eight Sabbats and 13 moons make up the Wiccan Wheel of the Year. They each carry a spiritual and practical significance.
With the day and night of equal length, this is the time of the greening. The Goddess Eostre is free of the cold Earth and all is fertile.
Beltane is a time of fertility, renewal and fire. It's between the end of darkness and the beginning of light. The veil is very thin.
The height of summer - the longest day - is a time of great celebration, but it also means that the dark days are coming again.

Calan Awst and Me

Calan Awst is the Welsh name for Lughnasadh/Lammas. I will be overseeing my personal harvest and looking to cover my dark times too.

Seen from another perspective, the gathering at Lughnasadh is also a wake.

A half forgotten colloquialism for the Lammas festivals is 'funeral games'.

The God Lugh has been cut down.  Parts of his 'body' are traded as wreaths of corn and bilberry jam. They will secure the survival of their recipients in the dark days ahead.

Let me be honest here. I might be a High Priestess, but the funeral arrangements for a God aren't usually top of my mind at Lammas. The closest I get to it is dumping an extra dollop of jam onto my scones.

This year, I have been forced to confront that side of things too.  In the days leading up to Lughnasadh, my uncle (my father's eldest brother and therefore head of our extended family) died suddenly. He choked on a biscuit.

In the aftermath, we had to make the tough decision to turn off his life support machine. We then agreed to allow his organs to be donated for transplants.

The connection to this time of year, and the Fate of Lugh, has not been lost on me.

My personal Lammas celebrations literally have been lost in the arrangement of a funeral. The backdrop to it all has been London 2012 - the Olympic Games. As symbolism goes, it doesn't get more intense than this.

Yet there are lesser aspects too.  With summer coming to a close, I'm already looking ahead to winter.  Have I saved enough money for my Glastonbury Festival ticket (on sale on October 7th)? And my car insurance in November?  And then the vast expense of the Yule period?  I'm looking to my finances with the focus that my ancient mothers surveyed their barns.

In my writing too, there are plans.  Veterans at this profession are telling me to think about articles for Halloween and Christmas.  They're not so far away now and people like to read such things.

The wheel of the year always pushes us into the future, but no Sabbat more so than Lughnasadh.

I hope that all of your harvests are bountiful this year.  Calan Awst hapus!

Updated: 08/03/2014, JoHarrington
 
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JoHarrington on 08/14/2012

I'm glad that you found it so. :)

zteve on 08/14/2012

Interesting!

JoHarrington on 07/29/2012

The farm that I mentioned had a reversible sign. Painted upside down on the back of 'Pick your own strawberries' was 'pick your own pumpkins'. Obviously the next one along then!

The reason that the American thanksgiving is in November is because you used to have so many. The governors at the time realized that this was hampering productivity. They ruled that there could only be one, but it would be a big one. Hence official Thanksgiving. :D

I love this time of year too, but my favourite is what's coming up. When the leaves turn gold and red in the trees, then start to fall. Beautiful time of year!

Ember on 07/29/2012

One of my favorite parts of fall are harvest festivals! I never associated it with any religion though, it was more like a necessity...the crops need to be harvested and it takes people! Why not celebrate too? XD

Anyways, we always had harvest festivals when I was growing up, like a school function, in late September/October. Some people tried to replace Halloween as a harvest festival celebration, (mostly churches) but I had none of that, to me they had to be very different things. The festivals mostly tended to be mini-carnivals, with games and prizes, and there were always hay bales, scare crows, corn stalks, and pumpkins. And face paintings. :D And, just after the corn is harvested, the corn mazes always open up too! I also liked harvest festivals hosted at pumpkin farms, because it means pumpkins can be bought, which means the start of pumpkin-related foods, which tend to only last through Thanksgiving, and then you have to wait a whole year to see any of it again. Ah, childhood.

I also like this time of year, because there are tons of farms around that will let you come and pick your own fruits, like you mentioned. My mom and I actually went and picked blueberries before I moved a couple weeks ago. :)

JoHarrington on 07/29/2012

Is he a very beautiful border collie? I love that you named him Lugh.

And now you know where the God of Games thing comes from. :D

Ragtimelil on 07/29/2012

I read that Lugh was the god of games. I named one of my Border collies Lugh

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