Lammas, Loaf Mass, Festival for Lugh, Lughnasadh, Lunasa ~ Jessica North O’Connell and Yvonne Owens
JESSICA: Lughdnasadh, or Lammas, on August 1st or 2nd, is the first harvest of the year. “Lunansa,” is Irish Gaelic for “August.” Lughnasadh/Lammas arrives, bringing with it the first fruits of the planting season and the promise of more to come. Lugh-of-the-Long-Hand surrenders his life for the nurturing and sustenance of the community. His “sacrifice” ensures the abundance of the crops which feed us all. Though now he dies, as the energy of the sun wanes, he will be reborn and will rise up again, like the crops which he represents. The theme is one of sacrifice, a we begin the harvesting of crops, “cutting down” the Green God for our continued survival.
The Anglo-Saxon form of Lughomass, mass in honour of the God Lugh or Llew, was half-mass, ‘loaf-mass’, with reference to the corn-harvest and the killing of the Corn-king.’ The Tailltean Games, held in Ireland at Lughnasadh, were originally funeral-games, traditionally in honour of Lugh’s dead foster-mother Tailte; but as Graves points out, this tradition ‘is late and misleading’. The wake-games were clearly to honour the sacrificed Lugh himself.
I have always found that I become inexplicably sad in early August, despite the long, hot days and languid beauty of the summer season. When I began to delve into the histories of seasonal customs, I realized that the sadness stemmed from something buried deep in my own unconscious — that every gain infers a loss.
Not only is this the symbolic death of the God, but also entailed human death: Crom Curach, also called Crom Dubh (‘The Black Bowed One’), was a sacrificial god particularly associated with Lughnasadh…The Sacrifice of Crom himself seems to have been enacted in very ancient times by the sacrifice of human substitutes at a phallic stone surrounded by twelve other stones (the sacrificial hero-king’s traditional number of companions)…
Later the sacrifice seems to have been that of a bull, of which there are many hints, though only one which can be specifically linked to Crom Dubh…It tells of the of the tradition that a beef-animal was skinned and roasted to ashes in honour of Crom Dubh on his festival day, and that this had to be done by every household. Many legends speak of the death and resuscitation of the sacred bull…
YVONNE: Lammas is celebrated on or around August 1st, with the early harvest. “Lugh of the Long-Armed Spearman” is also known as “Llew of the Ready Hand.” He is the God of light in the Underworld. He wields the fabled Hallow (of the Thirteen Hallows of Britain), the “Spear of Light.” thus armed, he represents the penetrating beams of shafts of sun energy which translate, through a gestation in the Underworld womb of the Earth Mother, into the prosperity of the harvest. Loaves of golden grain, orchards heavy with fruit — everything that connotes mature and perfect ripeness is appropriate for this, of all seasonal feasts. Fall is the universally acknowledged time to celebrate the riches of Mother Earth and Her providence. Luxuriously colorful, opulently served and heaped-up abundantly, the Autumn feasts hearken back to the great Pagan festivals of harvest thanksgiving with the greatest fidelity.
The festivals we now know as Loaf Mass, Lughnassa, Mabon and Thanksgiving are vestiges of the rites of ancient Mystery Religions and have, for time immemorial, traced an archetypal theme. This universal story describes the felling of the Divine Child in the form of the harvest (or the pre-agricultural quarry or “Divine Victim” of the Hunt) and Her or His descent into the Underworld womb of the Earth Mother for the duration of winter. Here, the Divine Child is sacrificed, re-conceived, fertilized, quickened or “transformed” into new life. He will be reborn again in the spring. This epic saga is the “Eternal Round,” embodying cycles of growth, maturation, death and birth (of animal, vegetable and human life) in response to the seasonal orchestrations of available light. The season of winter (recognized in the archaic pattern) begins on October 31st at Samhain. (Spring begins on February 1st, at Imbolc, Brigid’s Day or Candlemas, and ends on May 1st, Beltaine, when summer begins). Samhain begins the “dark half of the year” known to Witches, Druids and ancient Celts. The “light half of the year” spans the lunar cycles from Beltaine to Samhain.
These have been the underlying themes of autumn festivals since the earliest human societies of hunter/gatherers. The mystical death and rebirth of the Magical Child of the Divine Mother is at the very root of religious development. The endlessly repeated cycle of the Goddess and Her Divine Child is the basic shape of the yearly seasonal round, characterizing ideas about sacrifice, sacredness, celebration, reverence, worship, devotional offerings and gratitude for the “gifts” of Mother Earth. The passion of the Mother Goddess and the repeatedly sacrificed and resurrected child of spring flowed out of our history as a species foraging in the wild, and informed the development of agriculture as the dawn of civilization. The sacrifice of the Divine Child is seen as redemptive, both materially and spiritually, and the child is (and always has been) regarded as a savior.
The harvest festivals celebrate the successful completion of labors and their fruition. Divinity is most clearly seen in the abundance of the garden, produce section or fruit stand. Visually stimulating arrangements of fruit, flowers and vegetables give a sensual and enticing aura of well-being. Indian Summer is a time for “last-chance” outdoor feasts, rituals and labor Day picnics. Succulent color and round shapes grace the altar (or dinner table/picnic blanket). Images of the God as Wonderful Youth or vigorous mature man, and images of the Goddess as Mistress of the Grain emerge at this time of year. In Fall, She is seen as conservator of her offspring; the earth’s precious resources represented by the Vegetation Gods — Lugh, Dionysus, Adonis, Attis, Mabon, Osiris, Tammuz and John Barleycorn, among countless others. Frequently these deities have animal counterparts, totemic aspects which are frequently those creatures which commonly feed on their vegetation form. For instance, grain-god Osiris was known as “The Bull of Heaven,” as was Tammuz, and Dionysus was revered as a black goat, the creature most likely to be found munching on grape vines.
These creature aspects served as sacrificial proxies in many cultures; their immolation at the eight major festivals represented the relatively few, very sacred occasions upon which the general populace ate meat. (More primitive, pre-agricultural divine sons, such as Adonis, Mabon or Lugh, are identified with wild creatures such as stags, fish, birds and wild boar.) It is these Green Man aspects of eartly providence we are actually reverencing by thanks-giving. The “divine offspring” of the Earth Mother are seen collectively as a conscious, willing, noble sacrifice. They are also seen as aspects of her, as most clearly recognized with Persephone or Kore. Reverence for the Earth’s riches underlies the most enlightened spirit of ecology, where abundance is seen as a precious gift, a living system and not to be taken lightly.
In cherishing all manifestations of this earthly life as the Divine child, we can experience profound grace in partaking of them. The sense of wonder attained through nourishing the body and soul with what is construed as the body of the God is the original model for the sacrament of transubstantiation. “communion” was practiced as a vital part of the rites of Dionysus. Bread manikins were named “Dionysus,” and carried into the hills in small baskets; the wine that was the special substance of the God of the Vine was carried in goatskin flasks. The bread manikins were passed around to the celebrants, torn into bite-size pieces and ritually consumed. This extremely archaic ceremony may have been practiced in Old Europe, Asia Minor, and areas surrounding the Mediterranean for as long as 7,000 years. We still make ”gingerbread men,” and the “Pillsbury Dough Boy” has extremely venerable antecedents.
A large, well-formed Bread Man is a wonderful presence for the main altar of the Fall Harvest festivities (the dinner table), place in a properly festive bread basket. The basket represents the womb of the Mother in Her many guises (Hestia, Gaea, Modron, Demeter, Ceres, Cybele, Semele, etc.). Large, abundantly-filled flagons of wine or jugs of home-brewed beer are timely symbols, or pitchers of steam-pressed fruit juices and ciders. In archaic Greece, flasks were traditionally made from the skins of black goats, named “Dionysus Eleutherius” meaning “God of Liberation” or “Freedom.” This is the same concept of wine and beer’s ancient role in providing release after the labors of the harvest, or liberation from the bounds of duty as supplied the root for the word “Libation,” from another Roman name for Dionysus: “Liberius.” Bread and wine were consumed as the body and blood of Dionysus as a part of the Rites of Demeter during the Eleusinian Mysteries.
JESSICA: Lammas occurs during the month (“moon”) of Vine in the Celtic lunar tree calendar. The Rune for Vine month is Mannaz, connoting humanity, the personal and collective self, community, the Sacred Marriage consummation and the fruit of the union or Divine Child, as well as androgyny, among other attributes. Vine is the letter M in the Ogham alphabet and its Gaelic name is Muin. (pr. muhn).
The arrival of Lammas, first of the three harvests, marks the start of the autumn months. At the third harvest, Samhain, winter begins as does the New Year. One custom of the reaping season is the constructing of the corn dolly, traditionally made for corn husks. This icon was then given to the last person to finish reaping and it became that person’s responsibility to care for the dolly until Beltaine, when it would then be burned on the bonfire. Another custom was the making and offering of harvest cakes or loaves, from which comes the Anglo-Saxon name, “loaf-mass.” Embedded in the Christian ritual of the Eucharist are the rituals of Lammas. Traditionally, this sabbat is celebrated with grains, making bread a very appropriate food. While raising my children, I used to make German Pancake (wheat) and apple pies with the early Transparent apples from a friend’s orchard. And, of course, the “fruit of the vine” is most appropriate too, both to eat and to imbibe. Last year’s harvest should be ready for tasting…Cheers!
YVONNE: Celebrating “First Fruits,” Lammas begins a chain of countless grain and grape festivities which continue through Samhain, the final harvest festival. Feast days for Athena, Pan, Aphrodite, Hecate, the Moirae, Bacchus, Hestia, the Virgin Mary, the Tan Hill Festival, the Puck Fair, Isis, Hathor, Fieschi’s Cake Festival, Chang-O, the Festival of Minstrels, Ilmatar, Durga, Devaki and St. Rose represent a small percentage of the traditional multi-cultural celebrations crammed into August alone. The Grape Festival is celebrated on August 12th in many parts of Europe, and the Harvest Festival on August 28th. Harvest Home is observed in the British Isles in Mid-September and Zoroastrians celebrate the harvest during the festival of Ghambar Paitishem, from September 12th to the 16th. The Blessing of the Grapes is an Armenian holiday which takes place on August 19th, similar to the ancient Rustic Vinalia of the Romans, which took place on August 20th. The Romanian Wine Festival takes place on October 5th, and the Church feast day for St. Bacchus is on October 7th. Two dates commemorate the Celtic God of the Hunt. The antlered Herne or Cernunnos, is still (perhaps unwittingly) venerated at the Horned Dance at Abbots Bromley on September 9th, according to English custom, and Herne’s feast day, October 18th, is the occasion of the Great Horned Fair.
The Eleusinian Mysteries began where we now find the middle of September, with the Summoning of the Initiates. A lustral bath in the sea, the Holade Mystai, prepared the initiates on the following day for the duration of the lengthy festival. Like all mystery schools, the college of priestesses at Eleusis traced their rites of transformation along the lines of a mythic cycle or story. Conduced to the theme of the hero’s and hera’s journey in the Underworld, the rites ritualized Persephone’s descent and Dionysus’ mystical death and dismemberment. The visual motif for this saga was the metamorphosis of the seed grain, from fertilization, through sprouting and harvesting, and back to fertilization — the age-old drama of death and rebirth describing the indestructibility of life.
Pigs featured prominently in the Mysteries. Much of the secret activity of the priestesses, who were first and foremost sacred agriculturalists, involved mixing the seed-grain with the rotted carcasses of pigs. Pigs sacrificed during the previous year’s Mysteries were stored in deep caverns to decompose into a nitrate-rich compost, which would then serve as starter soil for new crops. In the centuries during which the rites of Eleusis took place, countless worshippers descended into the caverns of Demeter’s “Underworld.” The ultimate revelation, unveiled as a unique metamorphosis and experienced differently by each and every individual who undertook the descent, was simply a version of the sprouted seed — an undying Mystery which they understood as Persephone and Dionysus’ eternal return in the Spring. This very image is the logo of the current movement to preserve wild seed grain (and the vital genetic variety of food crops).
JESSICA: Evening Primrose is a Lammas Blessing.
The garden in moonlight
unfolds her fragrant blossoms
scenting the night air;
her golden-phosphorescent blooms
embrace the deep dark;
Evening Primrose blesses
my Woman- self…
One of Nature’s many giveaways, a lovely and magical plant which graces meadows, fields, roadsides and devastated areas, is evening primrose (Oenothera biennis), also known as fever plant, field primrose, king’s cure-all, night willow-herb, scabish, scurvish and tree primrose. (N.B. Do not confuse with primrose, Primula officinalis, Primula vulgaris.) Evening primrose is found growing in the wild east of the Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic seaboard. She is either an annual or biennial plant which grows from three to six feet in height, with a sturdy stalk, rough, hairy and reddish with long, oval, pointed leaves, measuring three to six inches long. Her bright yellow flowers, measuring about two inches across, open in early summer and continue blooming until the middle of autumn; earlier in the season, they open at twilight, exuding a heady, lemony fragrance, but as the summer progresses the flowers stay open during the daylight hours as well. Her nighttime perfume attracts the sphinx moth, a nocturnal insect, which pollinates her. She produces round, beige seeds, the oil of which is extracted for a multitude of medicinal purposes.
I originally discovered her oil as a “women’s supplement,” to help alleviate the more noticeable symptoms of premenstrual syndrome, (or more commonly, PMS), and menstrual discomfort, such as cramping and breast tenderness. Evening primrose oil is high in essential fatty acids (EFA), including gamma-linoleic acid (GLA), which among other uses, is indicated for heart health, strong nerves and bones and an efficiently-functioning endocrine system. Her oil is also thought to be aphrodisiac, supporting our prostaglandin levels (which impacts not only our sex lives, but also immune function and all types of cellular responses within the body). Because of its effect on the endocrine glands, which are responsible for hormone production, women also find the oil useful during the peri-menopausal and menopausal times, lessening the severity of hot flashes and correcting menstrual flooding. Too, it is thought to be helpful for pre-pubescent girls, easing the hormonal transition to menarche.
Oil of evening primrose is also said to be helpful for those suffering from atopic (allergy-based) eczema, atopic asthma and atopic migraine, according to research findings published in The Lancet, a prestigious British medical journal during the early 1980s. The oil may be useful for such conditions as psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, in the control of thrombosis, cholesterol and blood pressure, some forms of schizophrenia and in the treatment of such degenerative ailments as multiple sclerosis. Helpful in the prevention of hangover, her oil may also be effective in treating alcoholism and the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. Research continues to determine whether evening primrose oil may be effective in the treatment of benign breast tumors, certain forms of infertility, anorexia nervosa, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD, “hyperactivity”) and Parkinson’s disease.
However useful her oil may be, the medicinal virtues of evening primrose extend to the whole plant. Astringent and mucilaginous, she has been used as a remedy for coughs due to colds, to alleviate mental depression, and as an ointment for skin irritations and rashes. According to John Lust, the whole plant may also be eaten; the leaves and stalk were once a popular food with First Nations peoples. CAUTION: Evening primrose in any form is BEST AVOIDED BY THOSE WHO SUFFER FROM EPILEPSY AND, POSSIBLY, FORMS OF MIGRAINE OTHER THAN THOSE WHICH ARE ALLERGY-BASED. CHECK WITH YOUR HEALTH CARE PROFESSIONAL.
Clean and boil a two-year root (tastes like young parsnip). Pickle. Add to salads or serve as a condiment. Steam the leaves and stalk. Serve in stir-fry or as a side vegetable with a little balsamic vinegar or butter.
For coughs: Infuse 1 oz (30 gm) leaves and stalk in 1 qt boiling water. Use a canning jar. Let steep for at least 4 hours. Strain out solid matter and drink a cup of infusion when needed. Refrigerate unused portion. Will keep up to four days.
Facial steam: Add leaves and chopped stalk to a bowl and cover with very hot water. Sit with your face over the bowl, your head and the bowl covered with a towel. This is an astringent facial steam. Or, make a strong tea (2 teaspoons plant material per 1 cup water), steep for 10 minutes then strain liquid into a bowl. Dip a face cloth into the “tea,” wring out, then cover your face with it. Lay back and enjoy. When the face cloth cools, repeat. I like to use a bowl which has a cover to retain the heat. Keep a second face cloth “steeping” while the first one is on your face, then trade.
A cool solution: Drop a few green seed pods in a pot of hot water to soften them. Remove pods and crush with your hands. Rub into your hot, aching feet after a long day of harvesting (or standing on your feet at work). Very soothing!
Give heartfelt thanks to the Lord and his Lady in this wondrous season of plenty. Share your bounty with one another as you enjoy the still-present warmth and comfort of the sun-lit days.