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Lughnasadh, the End of Summer

Updated on March 1, 2015
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Raye gardens organically, harvests rainwater, strives to eat locally, and honors the gods from her home in the Pacific Northwest.

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The Major Sabbat of Lammas

The Sabbat of Lughnasadh/Lammas is one of the major Sabbats, and takes place from sundown on July 31st through sundown on August 1st. The ancestry of the holiday is from the Celtic, traditionally a day of feasting, games and dancing. The day is not in honor of Lugh although it was named by him in fulfillment of an oath he swore. The actual holiday honors his foster mother Taillte.

The old Irish Gaelic name for this holiday was “Lugnasadh," pronounced "loo-nah-sah." Literally translated, “nasadh” is related to the Gaelic “to give in marriage.” This may be why this was another popular time for couples to be handfasted, sometimes called “Tailltean marriages,” which lasted for a year and a day. The day is now considered auspicious for signing contracts or for exchanging marriage vows. The more commonly used name “Lammas” is based on Old English, where “hlaf” is “loaf” and “maesse” is “feast.” The first grains were harvested at this time and offered to the gods or on church altars.

Lughnasadh is the pre-fall harvest festival, honoring the fullness of summer and the very first signs of the coming autumn season. The ripening of grains (barley, oats and wheat) and corn is a main focus of this time of year. The Green Man was primary to these rites, sometimes called the Corn or Wicker Man. His death is necessary for the rebirth of the next season of crops, with his rebirth at Yule, and coming of age at Beltane. The dryness and intensity of summer heat which causes plants to whither is the foreshadowing of the fall when the first frost arrives.

Wicker Men and Corn Dollies

Moving into the waning year, all night bonfires were often held, with dancing and games held alongside the harvesting and ritual food offerings. Festivities could include making corn dollies, harvesting herbs, races and games of skill, similar to events you find at modern Renaissance Faires. The Oak King symbolically dies at this time of year, to allow the cycle to renew again, however this is not a solemn holiday. Sacrifices of crops and animals were sometimes made, and occasionally in some cultures, the king or a stand-in was offered. The burning of a wicker man was sometimes associated with these rites, an ancient precursor to festivals like the modern Burning Man festival held in Black Rock, Nevada at the end of August. Another ceremony performed at Lammas was the Catherine Wheel. A large wagon wheel would be taken to a hilltop, covered in tar, set afire and sent rolling down the hill. Some feel this symbolizes the waning sunlight and the sun-god having reached the autumn of his years.

One figure found at a variety of harvest festivals was the corn dolly. Alternately spelled as “corn dollie,” this icon is a figure woven from either braided straw or sheaves harvested from the corn fields. A related icon called a “kern baby” is a figure made from the cob of the corn. These figures were dressed or adorned to resembled women, and viewed as an embodiment of the spirit of the harvest or a representation of the Goddess. It was considered necessary to safeguard this fertile spark over the winter to ensure continued and bountiful harvests. In some cultures, all the farmers would gather in the fields and cut the very last sheaf standing from all the fields as a communal group. The belief was the Corn Spirit would retreat to the last sheaves as the harvest happened.

At Lughnasadh, the last sheaves harvested in the fields are woven into a corn dollie, The Corn Mother. This doll is kept in a closed box until Candlemas. Reborn as the Corn Maiden, the dollie is dressed in white and displayed as Brighid the Bride for this holiday. Sometimes the corn dolly would then be plowed into the fields during these first preparations and other times this wouldn’t happen until Beltane.

Lughnasadh begins at sundown and runs through the following day.
Lughnasadh begins at sundown and runs through the following day. | Source

Late Summer Rituals

Simultaneously this holiday honors the fullness and abundance of summer alongside the coming waning of days and preparations for the coming winter. Cattle and other farm animals were often walked through the last coals of the Lammas bonfires as a blessing, an action noted as also being an effective way to help rid your herds of pests and fleas flourish in late summer. some more modern ways you can observe and mark the Lughnasadh holiday are

  • Sacrifice bad habits and unwanted things from your life by throwing symbols of them into the sabbat fire. Prayer scrolls can contain written descriptions of offerings, or they can be doodled or drawn representations. They can be symbols or words, whatever is a more powerful association for you.
  • Freshly harvested grains and berries are the foods most associated with this holiday. Blueberries were the fruit often picked as an indicator of the coming harvest so you may wish to include some of them in your meal or on your altar. Bread can be baked in the shape of a man or the sun for further Sun God correspondences.
  • Take time to harvest fruits from your garden with your family. If you don’t have a garden, try visiting a pick-your-own farm in your area. Urban pagans can also consider having bowls of organic grains on an altar as an alternative for garden harvests. You might also want to share the bounty of your harvest by making a food donation to a charitable group.
  • Your altar can be accented for Lammas with fresh vegetables or fruits, grains, berries, corn dollies, and bread. Appropriate colors are orange, gold, yellow, red and bronze.

Lammas Fire Spinning

Harvest Blessings and Well-wishes!

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    • Greekgeek profile image

      Ellen 

      7 years ago from California

      Gracious! Why didn't I know you were, well, part of the circle? I learned a few things from this, even though I've been celebrating these holidays for over twenty years.

    • profile image

      alorelle 

      8 years ago

      What a wonderful, accurate description of the first harvest! Thank you for publishing this.

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