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 Freyr as a god of peace and plenty.
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 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, 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 Freyr in the hopes of a good harvest. I will be celebrating this festival by doing an ADF ritual, making some bread, having a party of seasonal foods, spending time in nature and going to Dartmoor to 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.