Celebrating Lammas/ Lughnasah 2017

Happy Lammas Everyone. Lughnasadh/ Lammas is one of the four ancient Celtic Fire Festivals mentioned in the Irish tale of Tochmarc Emire and is held on 1st August each year. It celebrated the beginning of Autumn, a time that ushers in the end of hunger and a bountiful abundance of crops. It is the first of three harvest festivals – that of the grains and potatoes (since they have come over from America). On this day we celebrate the first fruits of the season.

For the ancient Irish, Lughnasadh was named after the god Lugh, the Fair One, and is the only festival to be named after a deity. However, he is not a god of the harvest, but rather “a patron of all human skills with a special interest in kings and heroes.” It was said to have been started by him as a funeral feast and sporting competition in commemoration of his foster mother, the goddess Tailtiu, who died of exhaustion after clearing the plains of Ireland for agriculture. Historian Peter Berresford-Ellis says it was “an agrarian feast in honour of the harvesting of crops.” The festival evolved into a great tribal assembly where legal agreements were made, political problems were discussed and huge Olympic-style sporting contests were held. It was a time of peace and was also one of two festivals where hand-fastings have been traditionally held.

Anglo Saxons also held their feast of Lammas at this time. The Anglo-Saxon chronicle refers to it as “first fruits” and historian Ronald Hutton says that it was customary at this time to reap the first of the ripe cereals and bake it into bread. This is why the festival was known as Lammas or Loaf-mass. Hutton states that “it would seem very likely, therefore, that a pre-Christian festival had existed among the Anglo-Saxons on that date” and “the same feast was…celebrated in different ways and under different names all over Celtic, Saxon, or Norse Britain.” He goes on to say that in the middle ages this was an important time for holding fairs, paying rents, electing local officials and opening up common lands. For Anglo-Saxon and Norse pagans, it is a time to honour Thunor for the summer rains, or Tiw as god of the Thing.

Following historical practices, Celtic reconstructionists celebrate this day with games and races, visiting fairs, giving offerings to the gods and spirits and generally being thankful for the harvest. The first fruits of the harvest are taken home and pilgrimages are made to sacred sites, hilltops and water sources where bonnachs, flowers and garden produce are left. Cheese is made, bilberries are picked and the first potatoes are pulled up. It is a time to feast on potatoes, bread and berries. Traditional foods include Lample Pie and Colcannon made with onions, garlic, potatoes, butter and shredded cabbage. This is the Feast of the Warrior and it is a time for warrior games, martial prowess and equestrian activities. It is also the time when the Thing was held in Iceland.

Lughnasadh or Lammas is a time to be grateful for the food on our table and to remember that the hot days of summer are coming to an end as we approach the cold part of the year. It is the time to briefly rest before the hard work of reaping what has been sown begins. It’s traditional to celebrate this time by making corn dollies (ask a farmer if you can cut some corn), baking bread, holding sports competitions, selling your crafts at summer fairs and having bonfires on hilltops. It is also a good time to pray for or work for peace. Offerings are given to Lugh, Thunor or Tiw in the hopes of a good harvest. I will be celebrating this festival by doing an ADF ritual, making some bread, opening the Mead that I brewed at Midsummer, having a feast of seasonal foods such as sausages, potatoes, sweetcorn and blueberry gravy, and spending time in nature. Sometimes I also pick bilberries/ whortleberries.

Hutton, Ronald. The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Albertsson, Alaric. Travels through Middle Earth: The Path of a Saxon Pagan. USA: Llewellyn Publications, 2009.

Ellis, Peter Berresford. A Brief History of the Druids. London: Constable & Robinson Ltd, 2002.

http://www.tairis.co.uk

http://www.gaolnaofa.com/festivals/

http://gaelicfolkway.webs.com/feiseannaomh.htm

10 Ways To Celebrate Lammas/ Lughnasadh

Lammas/ Lughnasadh is almost upon us. Here are ten ways to celebrate:

  1. Open the Mead you brewed at Midsummer, give the first glass to the gods as an offering and then enjoy a glass yourself. Alternatively, now is a good time to start brewing grain based drinks such as Beer or Ale.
  2. Go Blueberry or Bilberry picking. Turn your collection into Jam.
  3. If you have a garden or allotment, now is the time to bring in the first harvest.
  4. Bake some bread. And give the first slice to the gods as an offering. If you don’t know how to make bread – now is the time to learn.
  5. The main potato crop and sweetcorn seasons are just beginning so enjoy a meal with these two ingredients in.
  6. Do a ritual honouring Lugh if you follow a Celtic hearth culture, or Thunor and Tiw if you follow an Anglo-Saxon/ Norse one.
  7. Pray for Peace in your family, community and the world.
  8. Visit country fairs, or even sell some hand crafted items at one.
  9. Take part in some games, sports competitions or martial arts.
  10. Make corn dollies and decorate your altar with symbols of the harvest.

The Importance of the Hearth Cult

Today I want to write briefly about the Hearth Cult. What is this? Arguably this is the foundation of all Pagan practice, regardless of tradition. Or it needs to be.

The fundamental unit of ancient Pagan society was not the individual, it was the household. Pagans lived in small tribes made up of households. Now while there was undoubtedly an important community aspect to their religion, the primary setting for most pagan religious practice would have been the home. Worship was carried out in the home, with the Father and Mother maintaining religious roles as the Familial priests. And while there may have been some focus on the high gods, most worship would have been focused on the local spirits and ancestors. They would have primarily honoured the Cōfgodas (household gods) like the spirit of the homestead, the family ancestors, and local spirits of the land.

But where did the high gods come in? These would probably have been worshipped by the tribe as a whole – at community festivals such as Eostre, Lammas, Winternights and Yule. At these ceremonies, the king or tribal leader would have acted as the high priest of the people, their representative. This is the ancient concept of sacral kingship. And the high gods would probably have been more willing to pay attention to the needs of the whole community, rather than an individual (sorry we’re just not that important as individuals in the grand scheme of things).

So where am I going with this? There is a shift beginning in Paganism today to rediscover the importance of the hearth cult. It is our duty as Pagans to restore and then maintain our own household cults. Our primary focus for worship should be in, and on behalf of, our households. And it should be focusing less on the high gods, and more on our Ancestors, household spirits and local spirits of the land i.e. the one’s who actually have the interest in us and time to help. When we restore this, we can build a strong spiritual foundation in our lives, worthy of the name Pagan.

Celebrating Litha/ Summer Solstice 2017

Happy Summer Solstice everyone. It is the Summer Solstice or Midsummers Day in the Northern Hemisphere. The word Solstice comes from the Latin “Sol” meaning sun and “Sistere” meaning to stand still. It is the longest day of the year with 15 hours of sunshine. The sun is at its most powerful today. Celebrated by almost all cultures historically, it is an important time of the year for Pagans and Pantheists as one of the major festivals. Also known as Litha after the Anglo Saxon name for the summer months or Alban Heruin (light of the shore) in revival Druidry traditions, it is a great time to celebrate by having a BBQ and bonfire on the beach.

Crops have all been planted and are growing strongly, the earth is alive with blooming flowers, green trees and insects busy collecting pollen and making honey. It is a time to rest, to have fun and to celebrate before the hard work of the harvest begins. From now on the days begin to shorten again as we move back towards the winter. In the agricultural community, this is the traditional month for sheep shearing.

Although its not one of the four Celtic Fire Festivals, the day was probably celebrated by the Druids and its quite possible that places like Stonehenge were used by them at this time (no they didn’t build it). On the Isle of Man, there is a tradition of “paying rent” to the patron of the island, and Celtic god of the sea, Manannan Mac Lyr on this day, by offering him bundles of reeds, meadow grasses and yellow flowers, along with prayers for aid and protection in fishing. Another deity related to this time is the goddess Aine, the Irish goddess of summer, love, fertility and sovereignty. She is sometimes seen as the wife or daughter of Manannan Mac Lir, and is the queen of fairies because this is traditionally the night when they come out and join in celebrations. Aine is honoured on Midsummers eve with a feast, procession and bonfires.

Midsummer is very important in Northern Pagan traditions such as Heathenry and is a time to honour Sunne, goddess of the sun, the landspirits and sometimes Balder is also honoured. Grimm talks in Teutonic Mythology of setting up a “Sun-wheel.” For Wiccans, this is when “the powers of nature reach this highest point. The Earth is awash in the fertility of the Goddess and God.”

Historian Ronald Hutton says that at this time “Midsummer bonfires, with much the same rituals, are recorded all over England, Wales, Ireland, Lowland Scotland and the Northern Isles.” The first record of lighting protective fires on midsummer’s eve is from the 12th century, however in the 4th century pagans celebrated by rolling flaming wheels downhill to a river, a practice that can be traced right up to the 19th century in Dartmoor, Devon. It was a time for divination and the Anglo Saxon Lacunga says its the best time to collect certain plants for healing. In fact, St John’s eve was seen as the time when herbs were most potent and magical. In 13th and 14th centuries there are records of people carrying fire around their fields on midsummers eve, people staying up all night around bonfires in the street and youths gathering at wells for songs and games. Hutton says “the dossier seems to be complete enough to speak confidently of a pre-Christian seasonal ritual of major importance.” Meanwhile, in Audoenus’s 7th century text Vita Eligii, there is the statement “Let no Christian believe in bonfires or sit at incantations, which are diabolical works; let no Christian perform the solstice rites, or dancing or leaping to flute-player or diabolical chants, on the feast of St John.” Other traditions from Northern European countries include having a maypole, going to a “midsummer-tree” to pray that the fields might be given growing strength or making large Midsummer’s wreaths and giving them to others as a sign of affection. Bonfires were made in the streets and marketplaces and homes were decorated with sprigs of birch, fennel and flowers.

It is traditional to celebrate this festival by having BBQ’s and Bonfires with friends, watching the sunrise and eating summer foods e.g. salads. Strawberries have come into season now so eat I like to eat them on the solstice. It is a good time to be outside, to collect herbs, to go hiking or camping, to have a water fight and to make mead. It is a time to be thankful for the sun and to enjoy its light and warmth.

This year I will not be doing as much for Midsummer’s eve. I will try to spend time out in nature, do a ritual and decorate my altar with solar symbols like some oak leaves and some sunflower seeds.

Please note that I have also created a new ritual page with the ritual outline I usually use on high days such as Litha.

Hutton, Ronald. The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Kveldulf Gundarsson. Our Troth: Volume 2 – Living the Troth. USA: Booksurge Publishing, 2007.