Thursday, July 19, 2012

The First Harvest–Lughnassadh

Horned One, Lover, Son
Leaper in the Corn
Deep in the Mother
Die and be Reborn
- Popular Pagan Chant

In the pagan cycle of Sabbats, we are fortunate enough to have not just one, but three harvest celebrations. Lughnassadh, otherwise known as Lammas, is the first of these harvests. It is a fire festival, which means that it is one of the 4 Sabbats that is not either a Solstice or Equinox. It is tied to agricultural and seasonal changes and commonly celebrated around July 31 or August 1 although it can also be celebrated as late as August 6th. Like many pagan holidays of celebration, this Sabbat is about honoring the bounty of the earth, but understanding that the days are becoming shorter and nights are longer.

This sabbat is often attributed to Lugh Lamfada, who in Celtic / Irish mythology created this celebration to honor his foster mother Tailtiu who died of exhaustion to ensure that all the lands of Ireland were cleared for planting. It is also a time when handfastings were popular - a handfasting is a "trial marriage" or contract lasting usually a year and a day. If at the end of that time the couple feels they wish to make their union more permanent, they can do so. It is often said that the practice of handfasting led to our custom of engagements before marriage today. Lammas is the time to honor animals and their contribution to our harvest, not just as farm animals, but as companions, omens, and communications from the Universe. It is the time for crafts and handmade items, especially wheat weaving, and was the time when our ancestors would begin plaiting / weaving blankets and clothing for the winter time. It was common to have jousting or other tournament type games as well to celebrate the sacrifice of the Corn God, and outdoor feasting and games were popular.

The word Lammas - (or Loaf-day) honors the first harvest of the wheat. The early Anglo-Saxon Christians would often bring a loaf of bread to their Church in honor of this day. In Stregheria – a branch of Italian witchcraft – they call this day Cornocopia. And to our Teutonic witches, this day is often referred to as Thingtide. This time of year is also associated with Odin and his discovery of the wisdom of the Runes, by which he hung upside down on the tree of Yggdrasil for 9 days and 9 nights in his own sacrifice for knowledge, which he promptly shared with his beloved children of the earth. It is at this time of year that many cultures from all corners of the globe honor the earth and its bounty; you will find similar stories of abundance and harvest in your own quests for knowledge.

There are many associations with Lughnassadh in neo-paganism today. Certainly, it is a time of celebration. For our agrarian forebears, it was the time for reunions and taking a break from field-work. We can see in our mundane society that July and August are popular months for reunions and family get-togethers! Lughnassadh is the time when the first fruits are ripening, and as a pagan practitioner, you can start to see some of the results of your labor over the past year. In fact, some people refer to Lammas as the 'Blueberry' (or 'Blackberry' if you live on the west coast!) celebration, because that is when the blueberries / blackberries are sweet and perfect.

However, one of the most important components of Lughnassadh is the sacrifice of the God of the Grain in order to ensure the rest of the harvest is healthy and full. Lugh is beseeched so that he protects our still-ripening fields and keeps our upcoming harvests hale. He sacrifices his blood on the fields to nourish and protect the land. He returns to the bosom of the Great Mother to be reborn as your next harvest at Mabon. As the wheat is cut down, so is the Lord of the Dance. But it is not an empty sacrifice, as the God gives his gift of life to his people – us – so that we might best survive the cold and dark times of winter.

One of the way Pagans celebrate this holiday is to make a bread man for sacrifice. It's incredibly easy to do, and a great pagan craft to do with your family, coven or friends. You will need bread dough - either home made, store bought frozen or (my favorite) refrigerated bread sticks you can buy near the biscuit area in your food store. You will also need food coloring and any other adornment you wish. Remember, although you will NOT be eating this bread-man, it must remain edible!

First, build your bread God. Honor the bread before you begin to work with it. Thank the Sun for bringing life, thank the wheat for its gifts, thank the water for hydrating the land. Then, on a greased cookie sheet, parcel out dough for the body, two legs, two arms, a head, antlers, various body parts...and any other embellishments you want to add on. Make sure all the parts of the body are about the same height so they will all cook evenly. While the bread dough is pliable, you can easily make any shapes you want. Remember that the bread will puff up as you bake it, so you will lose some detail and will need to leave a lot of room for your God to grow. You can then use food coloring for different areas of the body if you wish. Some people cover their Bread God with seeds or herbs of the season. Once your God is how you envision him, bake him until he's golden brown. When he's all done, you can add things like flowers or any other non-bakable (but edible...) items you wish to put on him. Bring him and a big empty bowl into your Lughnassadh circle.

During your ritual set aside a time to reflect upon the glorious sacrifice of Lugh to your own personal harvest. Ask him to protect your life from any harm and to bring abundance upon the fields of your Spirit. And then....tear him up into tiny pieces. You heard me correctly! Everyone in Circle can do this, and kids are especially enthusiastic about this part! Just shred the bread man until he is nothing more than a pile of tiny crumbs. Each crumb is a piece of the God to feed the land. When your Circle is done, take the destroyed bread man and give him back to the Earth. You can take him on your next hike and toss him to the birds and small creatures, or even share him with the creatures who inhabit the wilds of your backyards or local parks. Thank the animals who partake of your bread god for bringing Him back to the Mother.

Lammas is also a good time to draw on the abundance of the Earth and the harvest in your own life. It’s appropriate to do magick to bring in all kinds of physical and emotional bounty; many pagans who normally don’t do a lot of spellwork will take this time to do something towards these ends. Even a simple candle spell to bring in your own harvest will reap great rewards. Many covens make a whole day of it, complete with picnics, games, singing and dancing.

As a pagan practitioner, you can celebrate this time of year with something more than ritual; this can be done by yourself, with a group, or with your family. Honor the season by volunteering at your local animal shelter to honor the animals who make our lives richer. Use your hands and make something to give away to show your own generosity. This is a wonderful time to bake with your kids and with your friends and honor the Sun God’s gifts. It is a time of plenty, a time of singing and dancing. For adults, this is the perfect time to visit a local winery and sample the fruits of the vine, each a different flavor of the harvest.

In our modern world, we aren’t always aware of the cycles of the earth – food is plentiful at any grocery store, and very few of us are required to harvest food for our own meals. It is important that we remind ourselves that in spite of the many conveniences we have, it is ultimately the Earth who gives us the sustenance we require and Lughnassadh provides us the opportunity to show our gratitude for the sacrifice and abundance we receive.

I wish you all a glorious Lughnassadh and a bountiful harvest!

¸.•´¸.•*´¨) ¸.•*¨) Flags, Flax & Fodder,
(¸.•´ (¸.•`Kaerwyn Silverwood, HPS
Coven DragonVeil
1734 Tradition, Maryland, USA