Lughnassadh or Lammas (Loaf-mass-Festival of the Bread) is the first of the three harvest Sabbats. In Old Irish the word “Lunasa” (a variant spelling) means August. It honors the Celtic Sun God Lugh and is principally a grain festival, sometimes called the “Sabbat of First Fruits”. Corn, wheat and barley are ready to be harvested by August, as are many other grains.
Lugh literally means “shining one”. He was a God of many skills and was said to be able to come into human form to worship among the Druids, for whom he was a primary deity. He was the God of Harvests, Fire, Light and Metallurgy and he was the protector and defender of the weak and ill. Though this Sabbat is named in honor of a God, the Goddess aspect figures prominently, too. The Irish Goddess, Dana, is Lugh’s Queen and she is also venerated and her stories are told around the circle. In parts of Greece, the grain Goddess was Demeter and in Rome, Ceres, from whose name the word cereal is derived. And, since anthropologists believe that women invented agriculture, this is a very feminine festival. The planting of seeds and harvesting of grain is truly a wondrous achievement. At Lammas, the Goddess wears a face of exquisite abundance. She is ripe and swelling with life. At this time we also celebrate the heat of the sun as we approach his sign, Leo.
The feast of Lughnassadh is one of the largest of any Sabbat. All the first fruits of the season and all grains that have been harvested are consumed. Corn, or maize as it is sometimes called, is the most well-known and celebrated of the Lughnassadh yield. Though its exact origins remain a mystery, it is known to have been cultivated as early as 7000 years ago in Mexico and the southwestern United States. The importance of grain to life is evident in virtually every deity structure in every religion on Earth. The entire preparation of grain from seed to harvest parallels the life-in-death and death-in-life aspects of the Great Goddess, Mother Earth.
Bread, especially that made with newly harvested grain, is also a traditional part of this Sabbat’s festivities. The baking of sacred and ritual breads is far older than we realize; it is almost as old as that of harvesting grain. It represents not only the harvest, but also Mother Earth, home and hearth. Making bread is a four-step process: grinding the grain, moistening it with water, shaping it into a loaf, and baking it. The use of yeast to cause bread to rise came much later, probably in Egypt, where they already used it for brewing beer and wine. In fact, liquor made from grain, such as ale, beer and whiskey, is as much a part of the Lammas feast as bread. In this aspect, the God of the Grain is known as John Barleycorn. Blackberry pies are also a featured item at this Sabbat feast-blackberries are sacred to the Goddess, Brighid. August 1st is a traditional time to go berry picking.
Since at Lughnassadh we are not celebrating Lugh’s life, but mourning his death, it was the traditional time for regicide (king killing rites). This practice came from the ancient belief that the king, like the God whose earthly vessel he was, must periodically die and spill his blood on the earth in order for human life to continue. This reflected the belief that the God must die at some point in the year before he could be reborn again at Yule. Different cultures have different time periods for these rites. It was usually seven or nine years. Later goats were used as a substitute for the king-this is likely and origin of the term “scapegoat”.
Lughnassadh is the time of the Barley Moon, a time when the symbolic aspects of life-sustaining elements of grain spill over into every part of life. In ancient times the last chaff of wheat or grain to be cut was kept and crafted into a corn doll. At Lughnassadh, she is called Corn Mother. In the Spring, she becomes the Corn Bride, the Maiden Goddess Bride. She is Macha, the Triple Goddess who presides over the Celtic calendar of holidays. While the various Celtic Gods wax and wane in power, Macha retains her strength and superiority in all Her aspects.
In a traditional meditation during Lughnassadh, participants are encouraged to visualize themselves on the back of a crow (an important member of the Celtic fetish family), flying over fields bright with sunlight. People are singing as they rake the hay into mounds, and you are so close you can smell the fresh hay and hear the harvesters’ song. The Sun of Lugh is high in the sky, but His strength is waning. As you alight in a nearby oak tree, there is a sense of peace and security as you are wrapped in Macha’s wings. Rest. You are in Her arms, the wings of the Mother, and basking in the warmth of the Father’s rays.
This is a time of robust health and erotic energy. The ancient tribes met during this time of the year to gather news, settle any disputed arguments, arrange marriages, and show off strength and skill. As might be expected, celebrations are held outside, under the bright blue sky, and, in addition to sporting events and horse races, there is mighty feasting.
At Lughnassadh, the altar, adorned with a white, yellow or gold cloth, is carried outside. To honor and acknowledge the bounty of the Earth Mother, bring corn, fruits, berries vegetables, baskets of bread and bunches of flowers. Light yellow and gold candles to represent the Sun.
The Lammas altar can be adorned not only with the fruits of the harvest, but the tools as well. The reaping hook and sickle are both sacred to the Goddess, not only because of their association with the sacred grain, but also because their shape resembles the crescent moon. Pitchforks are not only harvesting tools, but their tines resemble the horns or antlers of the Horned One.
HERBS OF LUGHNASSADH
- Fenugreek – The seeds are nutritious and a tonic. It prevents fever, strengthens the stomach and aids digestion. This herb can address anemia and general weakness. The powdered seed is used in poultices for boils, abscesses, swollen glands and sores. Drink fenugreek tea for bronchitis, sore throats and fevers. Steep two teaspoons in one cup of cold water for five hours, then boil for one minute. Peppermint or lemon will improve the taste. Three cups a day is recommended. Fenugreek capsules can help a nursing mother increase her milk supply. Fenugreek used in rinse water as you clean, or placed around the house, will attract money. Half-fill a small jar with fenugreek seeds and leave open in the house to attract money. Add a few seeds to your cache daily, until the jar is full. When your objectives have been achieved, bury the seeds in the earth. This herb is sacred to Apollo. POWER = Money
- Hops – Aside from being a key ingredient in beer hops are used in healing sachets and incenses. Hops are used in treatments for the nervous system and to cure insomnia. They are a sedative and a hypnotic and ease tension and anxiety. Hops have been used to treat ulcers, since they are also an antiseptic. Avoid using hops during depression. A pillow stuffed with hops brings on rest and sleep. POWER = Healing, Sleep
- Oak – The inner bark and the young leaf are used. Only use the white oak for internal use. Taken as a tea it will help shrink vericose veins. If using the leaf, use two teaspoons per cup and steep 20 minutes. For the bark, use one tablespoon per cup and simmer 20 minutes. The tea helps bring down fevers, treats diarrhea and makes a wash for sores. Up to three cups a day may be safely taken. As a gargle, it helps heal mouth sores and sore throats. A tree as long-lived and strong as the oak naturally offers magical protection. It is a tree of the Sun and sacred to Brighid and the Dagda. Oak symbolizes strength, perseverance, abundance, fertility, longevity and protection. It brings fertility to ideas, projects and harvest magic. It is said that if you catch a falling oak leaf on the first day of Autumn you will have good health all Winter. It is a classic wood for staves and wands. Carry a piece of oak (acorn, twig, bark, leaf) for good luck. POWER = Protection, Strength and Fertility
- Oat – The straw and the grain are used. The tincture forms the basis of all nerve tonics. Oatmeal, easily digested, is an ideal food for invalids and those with fevers. Cooked oats thickened with slippery elm powder make a poultice for skin irritations. The tincture strengthens the uterus. A tea of oatstraw helps chest complaints. Simmer small pieces of the straw in water for one hour and add honey. A bath of it benefits rheumatism, liver and kidney disease, bladder problems, wounds, skin diseases, frostbite, and chronically tired and cold feet. Boil about 459 grams of the straw in two liters of water for 30 minutes, strain and add to the bath. Eating oats is said to lower cholesterol. It was traditional at Lughnassadh to make oatcakes from the new grain and share them with family and friends. Oats are used in prosperity and money spells. POWER = Prosperity
- Sunflower – A syrup is used for lung and throat problems, coughs and colds. Sunflower seeds are simmered in water (one ounce of seeds to one quart of liquid) until half the water is absorbed or evaporated. Add six ounces of gin as a preservative and honey to taste. The oil can be used for the same conditions: ten to fifteen drops, three times a day. A tincture of the seed has been used to treat fevers and as a substitute for quinine. In the Aztec temples of the Sun, priestesses carried sunflowers and wore them as crowns. As Sun symbols, these flowers symbolize the healthy ego, wisdom, fertility and wishes. Sleeping with a sunflower under the bed is said to allow you to know the truth in any matter. If you cut a sunflower at sunset and make a very small wish, it will likely come true before another sunset. POWER = Wishes and Wisdom
- Other herbs of Lughnassadh are: Frankincense, heather, hollyhock and mistletoe.