Lammas celebrates the Grain Harvest; the word comes from Loaf Mass and traditionally was when the first harvest came in and loaves were put on people's tables. Traditionally it is celebrated 1st August in the Northern Hemisphere and 2nd February in the Southern Hemisphere.
The Grain Harvest is the first one of the year, the second harvest is one of fruit and is celebrated during the Autumn Equinox and Samhain in October is the final harvest of nuts and berries. Lammas was an extremely important time of year for agricultural communities, and is still celebrated today with it's symbols of death and rebirth.
Lugh and Tailtiu
This is the time of the year when the power of the sun begins to fade, there is about to be a huge seasonal shift and darker colder days are coming. Lugh the Celtic Sun King and God of Light is celebrated at this time, Lugh's mythical foster mother was Tailtiu, and in August it was said that he arranged great festivities in his mother's honour, where people enjoyed feasting, bonfires, dancing and fairs. Tailtiu was said to be an amazing women, who cleared the lands of Ireland to make way for the planting of crops. Lugh gives his name to Lughnasadh, the Gaelic festival marking the beginning of the harvest season. 'Nasadh' comes from násad which is old Gaelic for assembly. Such celebrations are one reason why many pagans favour handfastings and weddings during August.
The Harvest Queen
The Goddess is in her aspect of Harvest Queen, Earth Mother or Grain Mother during Lammas. The core meaning of Lammas centres around fullness, seeds and future harvests. A woman is born carrying all the eggs she will ever release, and a pregnant woman carrying a daughter is also carrying her daughter's ovaries. Therefore, that pregnant woman is already a mother, grandmother and beyond; an embodiment of the great Motherline; the Earth Mother carrying the seeds of the future.
Cutting The Corn
Throughout Europe there are many customs centred around cutting the grain or corn; the first and the last cutting are both significant. The first sheaf would be cut at dawn and then baked into the Harvest Bread. The last sheaf was made into a Corn Dolly, which was dressed with ribbons and carried into the village, this was a key part of harvest supper. The Corn Dolly was placed above the fireplace or in a tree, eventually it returned to the earth to be reborn into the next harvest. Nurture Store have a great tutorial if you would like to make your own Corn Dolly.
The name John Barleycorn is prevalent in songs, album titles (see below) and even in the pub and hotel trade, but why this blog? He is said to be the living spirit of the grain and an embodiment of Lugh. John Barleycorn is cut down as the grain is cut, he surrenders his life so that others can eat and the communities can thrive. His sacrifice represents the death and rebirth of the seasons.
The first harvest was absolutely vital for village communities, without it they would not thrive, and so a huge amount of importance was placed on it's success. Nowadays if we want a loaf of bread, we pop down to the nearest shop. However, we still rely on crops and must continue to give thanks for abundance, we must also honour the earth and it's changing seasons.