Lammas or Lughnasad is the beginning of the harvest. The first corn is reaped, the first sacred loaf is baked, and the King begins his journey towards the Underworld. It is a time of mixed celebration and sorrow - rejoicing at a good harvest, sadness for the good things of Summer that will soon be gone. Spells and charms to do with coming to fruition, harvesting the benefits of work previously undertaken work well now.
Lammas comes from the Saxon word for the Feast of Bread, Hlaf-mass. It was a major harvest festival all over Europe; Ceres, Demeter and Juno Augusta were all names of the Goddess who presided over the ripening harvest. To us, Lammas is still the Lady’s rite when the first loaf of bread is made from the first sheaf of the year’s harvest.
Lammas Eve (1 February in the Southern hemispere; 1 August in the Northern hemisphere) is the festival of the God Lugh, the Celtic God who gave his name to London - originally Lugdunum. This festival celebrated the death and resurrection of Lugh as grain God. Similarly, we commemorate John Barleycorn’s death and the sacrifice of the harvest for the good of his children.
We mourn to see the fields so bare
That rippled ripe with grain
Yet barren fields say well we'll fare
Till harvest comes again
Lammas is the Lady's rite. We perform it in circle as a thanksgiving for harvest, and a blessing upon the Earth for her bounty. We feast on a loaf made from the first grains from the fields and on brewed beer. At this time of year we also try to consolidate our practical work. During the cold, winter months we shall reflect upon everything we have done during the warm weather; there is always more to learn. We also need to prepare ourselves with plenty to keep us busy so that we don’t waste that precious commodity, time.
Traditionally, we are in the time of the hazel, ruled by Mercury, and ninth in the tree alphabet of Ancient Britain. Each tree had a special name and meaning, and the Old Ones sent messages to each other composed of the leaves arranged like letters of the alphabet. The hazel was called Coll by the Celts; nine hazels grew over the legendary Connla’s well, producing flowers and fruit simultaneously. When their nuts fell into the well they were eaten by the salmon which lived there. The number of nuts the fish ate were recorded in the spots on their skin. This fish was held to be very wise by the Celts. Hazels are still linked with water; forked twigs from this tree are used by water diviners. Magician’s wands, too, always used to be made from one-year-old hazel wood although nowadays we seem to have a wand for every possible occasion.
Barley is the appropriate plant. It belongs to the element of Earth and is ruled by Venus, another name for the Mother Goddess. A corn dolly, with is traditionally made from barley straw, should be hung up in the home to attract health and wealth.
Our barley cakes and new bread are marked with an ancient Sun sign, the eight-armed cross.