Today is Lammas, a name that derives from the Old-English hlafmaesse, which means ‘loaf-mass’. August 1st is also known as Lughnasadh or Lughnasa, particularly among the modern Pagan community, and you can find loads about it on the world weird web.
Anglo-Saxon church records from the ninth century onwards show that that Lammas was the festival of ‘first fruits’ with wheat, corn and bread to celebrate the corn harvest.
The first ripe cereals were reaped and baked into bread which was consecrated at a church upon that day. A book of Anglo-Saxon charms advised that this holy bread be divided into four pieces, each of which was crumbled in a corner of a barn in order to make it a safe storage-place for the harvest about to arrive there.
Certainly, the arrival of the time when the first harvest could be gathered would have been a natural point for celebration in an agrarian society, and the importance of the first day of August was already so well established by 673 that Archbishop Theodore of Tarsus decreed that the annual synod of the newly established Church in England should be held then. It seems very likely that a pre-Christian festival had existed among the Anglo-Saxons on that date.
Although not one of the official quarter days, Lammas was a regular day for paying rents, settling debts, and changing jobs and houses.
It’s position in the year also contributed to its key role in the organization of rights to common lands. Where common or church land was rented out by the half-year, or where common strips of land were apportioned annually, Llamas was often the time that the business was carried out.
Lammas was also a popular day for fairs, for example at Exeter and York, and local feasts and revels, such as at Combe Martin in Devon. Temporary rules and regulations were in force during the time of a fair, it was important that everyone knew when the fair opened and closed, and impressive civic processions and readings of proclamations were often reported, along with the use of highly visible symbols that were displayed while the fair lasted.
Another name for Lammas is ‘the Gule of August’, and this phrase was in use from at least 1300; it also was in use in Old French and Medieval Latin. One suggestion is that ‘Gule’ derives from the Welsh ‘gwyl’, or ‘feast’, but it’s not clear why or how Norman English or Old French picked up such a word. It is more likely that the word is derived from Latin. For more about this read ‘The Stations of the Sun‘.
The new wheat of the year and the first loaf baked with it. Wheat and other cereal crops are one of the western world’s staple foods. Agriculture, one of the major innovations of the Neolithic peoples, allows us to grow vast quantities to ensure we are all fed, we all have bread to feed our bodies. How many of us take this for granted? How many of us pause to consider those in other parts of the world who do not have enough bread to sustain their bodies, bread being an analogy for essential food?
Today is a day, traditionally, to give thanks for the harvest that will feed us, but it would be nice for us to think of those who struggle to find enough food to feed them, whether it be through environmental disasters, societal turmoil, war, or man’s inhumanity to man. We could also send thoughts to the animals and plants who are suffering as much as mankind, often far more, through natural and man-made disasters and atrocities.
It is a time for community. In the past, communities would come together to gather the harvests in as quickly as possible so little was spoiled and all was safely stowed away to last through the coming year. It was a time of hard but necessary work.
This takes us back to the thoughts about those in the world and how the paradigm needs to change to a world community where we help one another to ensure all have enough for a decent life. Take time today to consider those who do not have enough food or any other necessities of life, and consider making a commitment to donate regularly to charity to help these people, if you don’t already do so. Of course, the world community includes not just humans, but all other living things, and the very Earth itself, for without these life would not be possible, would it?
These are the general and worldwide issues that come to mind in connection with Lammas; but what of the more personal, more symbolic messages that come with the first harvest of the year? What spiritual bread is there?
We all sow symbolic seeds – new beginnings, new projects, new ways of looking at ourselves, new ways to interact with people, and so on. These seeds will germinate in fertile ground, where we nurture them, and eventually they will bear the fruit of our efforts. Today is a day when we can look back at the seeds we planted in the spring and see what ‘fruits’ are ripe and ready to be plucked, and which need to be left to grow more before they will mature.
Another meaning is transformation. Wheat must die for it to give us sustenance and also so that new life can spring again from it when it’s seed is planted in the Earth. The life of the wheat is sacrificed to make way for new plants in the Spring.
So it is with our lives; we need to ‘sacrifice’ situations, projects, tasks, and so on that have reached their conclusion, let go of those that will not grow or have not germinated, and we need to do this in order to move onward, to allow new things to enter our lives.
Change is never easy, but it is necessary if we are to grow and realise our potential in all things. Lammas marks the start of the time when we can savour the fruits of our efforts. A time when we can experience the sweet taste of success, or the bitter taste of failure. Either way, Lammas is the time to start to let them go from our lives as it is the first harvest, the start of clearing the land of the crops that have either matured successfully or failed for various reasons. Lammas is the time to look within ourselves and in our lives to see where this is also the case.
This letting go of what has ended, no matter if it is a success or a failure allows a symbolic death of that which has come to its end. This is echoed in the increasing period of night that we notice at this time of year. The nights are drawing in, and while the days are still hot and balmy, there is a feeling of change in the world as we move to the Autumn Equinox. Yes, nature still flourishes and grows and fruits continue to grow and to ripen, but with the first harvests we begin to see nature coming towards the end of its yearly cycle of growth, the fields being laid bare ready for sowing with new seeds.
For now we can celebrate our successes, learn from our failures, and mourn letting go of what is complete, knowing that as one thing ends something new is on it’s way, just as a bare field means new growth will come in the Spring.
Whatever you consider today, whatever you think about Lammas, enjoy the day!