- Also known as: Lughnasa, August Eve, Feast of Bread, Harvest Home, GÅµyl Awst
- 1st or 2nd August (Northern Hemisphere)
- 1st or 2nd February (Southern Hemisphere)
- Late Summer /Autumn
- 15 degrees of Leo
- First fruit
- Skills and talents
The Wheel has turned and returned us to the cross quarters and brought us to the harvest salt last. Just as Imbolc represents the beginning of the end of winter so Lammas heralds the beginning of the end of summer. It may not be immediately evident in the heady hot days but we begin to notice that the sun is setting earlier each night and that hours of day and night have once again reached equal balance.
Out in field and hedgerows this change in weather brings with it a steady ripening and an abundance of life and activity. The fields of wheat and barley now stand ready to be harvested and y the first flour is ready to be ground. Historically the first sheaf of grain harvested would be ground and turned into a special load of bread which would be given to the church or as alms to the poor, whilst the last sheaf was thought to contain the spirit of the harvest, chased from stalk to stalk as the farmhands moved through the field. This final sheaf would be braided and kept safe for the duration of winter, to be returned to the earth alongside the grain for the next year’s crop. These traditions are echoed in modern practice with the offer if of bread and grain in rituals as well as corn dollies.
The focus has moved away from the planting and gentle encouragement of plants to their harvest and the celebration of hard labours reward. It is a time to give thanks not only for the harvest that has been made manifest but the blessings of the year so far. We are reminded that the sacrifice of the grain is only the first sacrifice that we will see in the months to come, with two more harvests to follow culminating in the sacrifice of the God at Samhain. The greater cycle of life and death has moved from live and light towards death, even if we are only just becoming aware of the darkness.
The God has begun to age, and with each late rising and early return to the west he looses strength and vigour. The Goddess on the other hand is still rising as she fills with the life and potential of the new God. Even as the weakening sun represents the decline of the God the swelling bounty of field and hedgerow represents the waxing of the Goddess. The God and Goddess entered their golden days of their lives; even as we enter the golden days of our year. It is equally the most poignant moments within the cycle, because gathering decline of the God into age and weakness is both inevitable and unstoppable, no matter what happens in the weeks head the Goddess will enter a period of mourning soon.
As well as honouring the God and Goddess at this time it is a good moment to remember the Death of John Barleycorn. Hang a corn dolly, which can be made from art straws just as easily as corn stalks, from your altar and recite the Ballad of John Barleycorn, thinking about the cycle of birth, death and rebirth that exists within the wheel of the year.
There was three kings into the east,
Three kings both great and high,
And they hae sworn a solemn oath
John Barleycorn should die.
They took a plough and plough’d him down,
Put clods upon his head,
And they hae sworn a solemn oath
John Barleycorn was dead.
But the cheerful Spring came kindly on,
And show’rs began to fall;
John Barleycorn got up again,
And sore surpris’d them all.
The sultry suns of Summer came,
And he grew thick and strong;
His head weel arm’d wi’ pointed spears,
That no one should him wrong.
The sober Autumn enter’d mild,
When he grew wan and pale;
His bending joints and drooping head
Show’d he began to fail.
His colour sicken’d more and more,
He faded into age;
And then his enemies began
To show their deadly rage.
They’ve taen a weapon, long and sharp,
And cut him by the knee;
Then tied him fast upon a cart,
Like a rogue for forgerie.
They laid him down upon his back,
And cudgell’d him full sore;
They hung him up before the storm,
And turned him o’er and o’er.
They filled up a darksome pit
With water to the brim;
They heaved in John Barleycorn,
There let him sink or swim.
They laid him out upon the floor,
To work him farther woe;
And still, as signs of life appear’d,
They toss’d him to and fro.
They wasted, o’er a scorching flame,
The marrow of his bones;
But a miller us’d him worst of all,
For he crush’d him between two stones.
And they hae taen his very heart’s blood,
And drank it round and round;
And still the more and more they drank,
Their joy did more abound.
John Barleycorn was a hero bold,
Of noble enterprise;
For if you do but taste his blood,
‘Twill make your courage rise.
‘Twill make a man forget his woe;
‘Twill heighten all his joy;
‘Twill make the widow’s heart to sing,
Tho’ the tear were in her eye.
Then let us toast John Barleycorn,
Each man a glass in hand;
And may his great posterity
Ne’er fail in old Scotland!
Salt dough is my seasonal standby for Lammas activities. It might not be edible but it does make great ornaments and altar decorations and they can last quite some time if properly prepared and protected.
The recipe couldn’t be simpler; combine 1 cup salt with 2 cups of flour and a ¾ cup of water. Mix well and you are ready to create. There are so many potential ideas for this time of year; salt dough plaits can be turned into wreaths which in turn make beautiful altar decorations for the adults whilst children can craft things like hedgehogs and other fun altar items like goddess dolls and candle holders.
Now take your creations and bake them in the oven at 180 degrees Celsius until they are cooked through (cooking time will vary depending on thickness of the creation. Don’t worry if things get a little brown, it’s all part of the effect but you can always cover your creation in acrylic paint and then seal it with varnish or polyurethane spray. This will give the finished item a bright quality and will help them to keep for longer. Unprotected a salt dough creation might last 2-3 weeks in an airtight container where as a protected piece will last a lot longer in the same conditions.
Don’t forget, anything you can make in salt dough tastes a lot better in bread, and is a much better offering to nature in the long run. Here is a simple Good Foods bread recipe which will make up some tasty offerings, if you want to get that shine effect coat the top of the finished creation with a beaten egg. If you are gluten free I can’t guarantee that this recipe will make up ornaments but you can always give it a go.