Time to Celebrate the Harvest!
In the Northern Hemisphere, the next Sabbat at the time of this writing for Wiccans and Wiccish Pagans is Lughnassadh/Lammas.
The reason that I write Lughnassadh/Lammas is that there are basically two ways to celebrate this Sabbat, either as Lughnassadh, which is celebrated based on the story of Lugh, the Long Armed, a Welsh God, who created a festival in honor of His foster mother’s self-sacrifice, or as Lammas, a Christianized term meaning “loaf-mass,” or the celebration of the wheat harvest. Some of us celebrate both of these, and some choose one or the other. They both have to do with harvest.
Lughnassadh is specifically “Celtic,” and the story is this in brief: Lugh, a Welsh King/God, known for His many skills and for encouraging competitions, celebrated the life and self-sacrifice of His foster mother, Tailltu (Tel-shah), Who died of exhaustion after toiling in the fields at harvest time to feed Her people. Each year in early August, those who celebrate this holy day honor it in the way that Lugh mythically did, by holding games of strength, shows of skill, and holding a festival bonfire with much feasting and merriment. It is said that marriages and betrothals are also part of this festival. Of course, not all of us can do all of those things, but a savvy person can incorporate these sorts of things into their practice, such as holding a fire and saying prayers to Tailltu and Lugh, or attending sporting events, participating in sporting events, or doing community work to honor the spirit of Tailltu’s sacrifice. Covens or groups of friends might hold games like “three legged races” or badminton or bocce ball or some such thing, then enjoy food together. Some will hold circles in which Lugh and Tailltu or perhaps Lugh and one of His consorts, such as Bloddeuwedd or Dechtera, are honored in a Wiccan ritual.
Lammas, slightly more typical in Wiccan practices, is a celebration of the harvest, and is often honored by a ritual of “killing John Barleycorn,” or the ritual slaughter of a personification of the Grain God. This can be done by “killing” a “bread man,” in whose belly or phallus are seeds, which spill onto the ground when “he” is “killed.” The significance of this, of course, is the idea that the Grain is personified as holy as it gives us life. The culling of the last of the harvest must be followed by a ritual activity designed to continue the cycle, so the spilling of seed onto the ground is done in ritual to ensure that all present recognize that we are dependent on this cycle of planting, growth, harvest, and returning the seed once more to the ground.
In Wiccan rituals, it is common to work at Lammas with Gods and Goddesses Who are associated with Grain and with fruition, like Demeter and Zeus, or Igraine and Art-Uther Pendragon, or Sif and Thor. Certainly, All Mother and All Father are appropriate for those who do not work cross Pantheon or who simply prefer to work in the outer ring of Wiccan myth cycles, honoring the Sabbats themselves as God stories, as in the 2 Year Cycle of the Wheel of the Year.
Appropriate activities for Lammas:
- Beer making/beer drinking
- Bread baking
- Serving community
- Feasting and merry making
- Seed saving
- Giving food to food shelves or to those in need directly
- Pledging fealty
- All acts of willing sacrifice (not to be confused with unnecessary wasting of one’s resources or life, which is sacrilege)
Appropriate altar dressings/materials include (but are not limited to):
- Sheaves of wheat/corn husks
- “Harvest colors,” such as gold, orange, dark red
- Wine/Cakes: Beer, corn cakes, homemade wheat cakes, oat cakes, or your Tradition’s “Trad cakes,” however you make them
- Effigies of “John Barleycorn,” corn dollies, “bread men”
However you choose to celebrate, may your Lughnassadh/Lammas be filled with bounty and blessings.