Lammas | Harvest Festival

Lammas – The Grain Harvest Celebration

A season to offer your sacrifice and reap your harvest

Lammas is traditionally celebrated on August eve or August 1st in the northern hemisphere and is commonly known as Loaf-mass the festival of the first of the harvests, the grain harvest.

At Lammas, the hot days of summer are upon us, much of the earth is dry and parched, but we still know that the bright reds and yellows of the harvest season are just around the corner. Apples are beginning to ripen in the trees, our summer vegetables have been picked, and corn is tall and green, waiting for us to come gather the bounty of the crop fields. Now is the time to begin reaping what we have sown, and gathering up the first harvests of grain, wheat, oats, and more.

Lammas is the Anglo-Saxon name for the festival, meaning Loaf mass, where gifts of loaves, breads and grains were made by farmers to their landlords. Also know as the ‘feast of first fruits’ in the Anglo Saxon chronicle, it was a time when blessings were given to new fruits.

Lammas is a time of excitement and magick. The natural world is thriving around us, and yet the knowledge that everything will soon die looms in the background and this is a good time to work some magick around the hearth and home.

Mythology and Legend

In medieval times the feast was known as the “Gule of August”, which may be an Anglicization of Gŵyl Awst, the Welsh name for August 1 meaning “feast of August”, ‘Gule’ could also come from ‘Geohhol’ (Old English form of ‘jule’) and thus Lammas Day was the ‘Jule of August’.

The theme of the God sacrificing himself for the land is very poignant at the festival of Lammas. His Queen the Goddess, pregnant with child, slaughters her husband, the God, so his blood may flow upon the land bringing new life and blessings for the coming year and transforming into the bread and ale that feeds us.

Lughnasadh is the festival of Lugh, a Celtic God of Light and Fire and God of crafts and skills. His Welsh form is Llew Law Gyffes, and in the Mabinogion story of Blodeuwidd and Llew, the theme of Llew as the sacrificed God can be seen.  Gronw can be seen as the Dark God of the Waning year, and Llew as the Bright Lord of the Waxing year, Blodeuwidd represents the Goddess in Her Flower Maiden aspect.

Other names for this Sabbat include the First Harvest Festival, the Sabbat of First Fruits, August Eve, Lammastide, Harvest Home, Ceresalia after the Ancient Roman Grain Goddess Ceres, Feast of Bread, Sabbat of First Fruits, Festival of Green Corn (Native American), Feast of Cardenas, Cornucopia (Strega), Thingtide and Elembiuos.

Ballad of John Barleycorn

Lammas is also the time when we celebrate John Barleycorn, and dance in celebration of the barley and wheat in the fields, and you will often see Morris Dancers performing in honour of the barley harvest and the ales and spirits it produces.  John Barleycorn personifies the story of the barley as it ripens in the fields, gains maturity and is then harvested, showing us the cycle of life death and rebirth throughout the seasons of nature.

There were three men came out of the west,
Their fortunes for to try.
And these three men made a solemn vow:
John Barleycorn must die. 
They’ve ploughed, they’ve sown, they’ve harrowed him in,
Threw clods upon his head.
And these three men made a solemn vow:
John Barleycorn was dead. 
They’ve let him lie for a very long time,
Till the rains from heaven did fall.
And little Sir John sprung up his head,
And so amazed them all.
They’ve let him stand ’till midsummer’s day,
Till he looked both pale and wan.
And little Sir John’s grown a long, long beard,
And so become a man.
They’ve hired men with scythes so sharp,
To cut him off at the knee.
They’ve rolled him and tied him by the waist,
Serving him most barbarously.
They’ve hired men with the sharp pitchforks,
Who pricked him to the heart.
And the loader, he has served him worse than that,
For he’s bound him to the cart.
They’ve wheeled him ’round and around the field,
‘Till they came unto a barn,
And there they’ve made a solemn oath,
On poor John Barleycorn.
They’ve hired men with the crabtree sticks,
To cut him skin from bone,
And the Miller, he has served him worse than that,
For he’s ground him between two stones.
And little Sir John in the nut-brown bowl,
And the brandy in the glass.
And little Sir John in the nut-brown bowl,
Proved the strongest man at last.
The Huntsman, he can’t hunt the fox,
Nor so loudly blow his horn,
And the Tinker, he can’t mend kettle nor pot,
Without a little Barleycorn.

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