Sunday, 14 July 2013

Lammas/ Lughnasadh History and Traditions

Lammas or Lughnasadh (Loo-nahs-ah) falls on the 1st August. It is a cross-quarter holiday festival which lies between the Summer Solstice (Litha) and the Autumnal Equinox (Mabon). In the northern hemisphere, Lammas takes place around August 1 with the Sun near the midpoint of Leo in the tropical zodiac, while in the southern hemisphere Lammas is celebrated around February 1 with the Sun near the midpoint of Aquarius.  

Lammas or Lughnasadh is the festival of the first harvest, traditionally it was a time for giving thanks for all that our Mother Earth, Gaia has provided; with a particular focus for the grain that has been grown that would sustain people during the long cold winter months. It is also seen as a fertility festival as the earth is ripe with her fertility at this time of year.  Other names and spellings for this point on the Wheel of the Year are Frey Fest, Lughnasa, Lughnassad, Feast of First Fruits, Habadonia, Threshold of Plenty and Lugnasad. In old Irish a variant Lunasa means August.

The name Lughnasadh, Lughnassad or Lugnasad is named from the Gaelic God Lugh, the God of Light and the son of the Sun. At the time of Lughnasadh, the Sun God Lugh transfers his power into the grain, and is sacrificed when the grain is harvested.  The God Lugh sacrifices himself so that his people might live and the power of the sun is thus transferred into the grain as it ripens. Lughnasadh also has an older name, BrĂ³n Trogain, which refers to the painful labour of childbirth. This is because, at this time of year, the earth gives birth to her first fruits so that her children might live.

The grain that Lugh has sacrificed himself for is harvested and made into the first loaves of the season. This was often done with great ceremony as it was seen as very significant. This is also the origin of the name Lammas, from the Saxon hlaef-masse or loaf-mass. The seeds from the first harvest are saved to be planted for next year’s crop and thus the Sun God Lugh will be resurrected and his strength, warmth and courage will be given to the new grains.

Wheel of the Year by nahimaart on DeviantArt
Beautiful artwork can be found here:
Another version of this story of the God Lugh tells that Lugh decreed that a commemorative feast should be held every year at the beginning of the harvest season In order to  honour his foster mother, Tailtiu. Tailtiu’s name is from Old Celtic Talantiu, "The Great One of the Earth," suggesting she may originally have been a personification of the land itself, like many Irish goddesses.

 Tailtiu was the royal Lady of the Fir Bolg. The Firbolg were an ancient race of people that ruled Ireland before the Tuatha de Danaan and the Melesians.  After the defeat of her people by the Tuatha De Dannan( the people of the Goddess Dana) she was forced by them to clear a vast forest for the purpose of planting grain. She died of exhaustion in the attempt. When people gathered at her death-bed, she told them to hold games in her honour. She said that Ireland would be forever happy and full of song as long as these games were held every year. This version of the Sun God Lugh's story seems a more likely explanation as we hear later legends that say that the Sun God does not die until the Autumnal Equinox.

According to the legends, Tailtiu was buried beneath a great mound named after her. This is the spot where the first feast of Lughnasadh or Lammas was held in Ireland, the hill of Tailte. At this gathering were held games and contests of skill as well as a great feast made up of the first fruits of the summer harvest. These games were known as the The Tailtean games. The Tailtean games saw many feats of strength and speed to celebrate the dying sun to be re-born again.

These celebrations also gave rise to the tradition of Teltown marriages. These were similar to the tradition of handfasting and were an arrangement for lovers to be bound for a year and a day. Such trial marriages were quite common even into the 1500s. These ceremonies were usually solemnized by a poet, bard, or  Pagan priest or priestess.
Other Goddess that are celebrated at this time of year are Bast (Egyptian), Ceres (Roman), Demeter (Greek), Gaia (Greek), Ishtar (Assyro-Babylonian, Rhiannon (Welsh) The legend of Persehone and Demeter is particularly appropriate for this time of Lughnasad. Persephone is representative of the grain seed and her descent into the underworld shows us the seed lying underground during the winter. Demeter the Mother goddess represents the ripe harvest in abundance at Lammas.

Lammas by Jezebelwitch on DeviantArtJezebelwitch

As Lammas is a festival of the first harvest a lot of celebrations have centred around the gathering of the crops. Corn-dollies have had a very prominent feature in celebrations across time and across the world in various cultures, both Pagan and non Pagan. Other names for the corn-dolly are the kern-baby or corn-maiden. This figure, braided into a woman's form from the last harvested sheaf of grain, was said to represent the Harvest Spirit. People hung these corn dollies over their fire places for luck.  Traditionally the corn dollies that had been woven at Lammas (or their ashes) were ploughed back into the land at Imbolc, thus symbolising the return of the Corn or Harvest Spirit back to the earth. In this way a bountiful harvest was hoped for the next year.  Different areas often had their own particular designs of corn dolly, often woven with beautiful bright wool and ribbons. Another European tradition was to weave a large corn dolly with a smaller one inside it to represent next year’s unborn harvest.

Amongst other typical Lughnasadh traditions included the gathering of wild berries and the climbing of hills as well as the visitations to holy wells. Very often ceremonial Lammas bread was baked in various shapes.  It is said that the bread represents the body of the fallen god Lugh.

On Lammas eve fires were lit on Lammas mounds to honour the corn mother. The fires represent the dying sun.

Lammas was a traditional time for craft festivals. Medieval guilds would display their wonderful wares with creative displays. They would often decorate their shops and themselves and march in wonderful parades. These were expanded into fabulous carnivals with plays and dancing. A highlight of these was the lighting of a Catherine wheel. A wagon wheel was set alight at the top of the hill covered in tar. This symbolized the ending of summer. The Church moved St. Catherine’s feast day all around the calendar its most popular date was traditionally on Lammas day. The name for the firework the Catherine Wheel still survives today. 
Lammas feasts often lasted for a period of a month from fifteen days before 1st August until fifteen days after. Horse fairs in honour of The Goddess Rhiannon were traditionally held around the country. In the north of England these fairs were called the Wakes. Wakes weeks are a custom that still continue today, although the original origins may have been forgotten.

It became a custom to give people the gift of a pair of gloves at Lammas or Lugnasad. This was partly because winter is just around the corner, but it is also related to an old tradition in which landowners gave their tenants a pair of gloves after the harvest. The glove is a symbol of authority and benevolence.

All around the world people recognize the importance of giving thanks at this time in the wheel of the year. The first harvest is a time to be grateful to our Mother Earth Gaia for all that she provides for us. This harvest sustains us during the winter and thus we have much to be thankful for.

Many competitive games around the world echoe the Talitean games. Most famous of these is of course the Olympic games traditionally held at this time of Lammas. Other traditional games are the Panatheniac Games and the Highland Games ; not forgetting the start of the modern football season.

In ancient Phoenicia this festival honored the grain god Dagon, and a significant portion of the harvest was sacrificed to him

In late July in celebration of this time of the wheel of the year in Greece the God , Adonis  was honored with an eight day  festival. His festival coincided with the appearance of Sirius, the Dog Star and the beginning of the extreme heat of this time of year. (It was believed that the appearance of the star added to and magnified the effect of our own Sun.)  It was also believed that Adonis spend half the year with Aphrodite (during which the Earth bloomed) and half the year with Persephone (which was winter).

In Israel, the festival of Shavout commemorates the beginning of the harvest, as well as honoring the date that Moses received the Torah on Mt. Sinai. The final sheaf of wheat is brought to the rabbi for a blessing, synagogues and homes are decorated with flower, and a great feast is prepared for all to enjoy.

The Norse Lammas Day is called the festival of Sif of the Golden Hair. Her husband was the God Thor (God of thunder and rain). Sif's corn grows because of his fertilizing rain. Loki (trickster and teacher) who is associated with wildfire, heat and the Dog Star is honored during Lokabrena (Burning of Loki or Loki’s Brand) for the ripening and cutting of the crops.

In Scotland, the first cut of the harvest was made at Lammas in a ritual called the “Iolach Buana”.
It was also called called "Bilberry Sunday.” Bilberries (or blaeberries), close relatives of the American blueberry, were considered to be a sacred fruit. On this day people would climb the nearest hill often named "Lughnasadh Hill" and gather the earth’s freely-given gifts of these wild berries. They are also known as wild sloe berries. These bilberries might have been worn as special garlands or gathered in baskets to take home to make jam, bilberry wine, or Fraughan Cake which is another word for these berries still used 
in Ireland today. Some bilberries or fraughans were always also left behind on a special cairn or rock as an offering to our mother Earth for a bountiful harvest and in promise of a good harvest next year.

In India the festival of Onam is celebrated in honour of King Mahabali. In one story Mahabali ends up buried under the earth by the god Vishnu but is allowed to return once a year, symbolizing the planting of the seed followed by the harvest.
Many Native American tribes celebrated this time on the wheel with the Green Corn Festival. They tell stories about  the Corn Woman, Blue Corn Girl and Corn Maiden. Green Corn festivals are still practiced today by many different native peoples of the Southeastern Woodland Culture. These colourful festivals are celebrated with feasting singing and dancing, thanking our earth for the bounty she provides.

In Egypt the time of Lammas co-incides with the flooding of the Nile at the same time as the appearance of Sirius the dog-star. Therefore Sirius is known as Septit the “Water Bringer” and is identified with Isis, the consort of the vegetarian God Osiris. It is thus believed that her magick has brought him back to life and the Festival of Isis Seeking Osiris in the Darkness is held.

In Belarus they celebrate the pagan ritual Yurya celebration. People believe that the pagan god Yurya protects their harvest and the annual tradition is devoted to plentiful future harvests.

After all the charged energy of the summer, Lammas marks a time to start to look inward and reflect, it is a time to renew and regenerate our spirit. From the joy of community gatherings to the deep experiences of ritual space, Lammas reminds us of the turning of the wheel.

Lammas or Lughnassad is a great time to celebrate, having a feast with friends and giving thanks for all that we have. Lammas bread may be baked representing the grain mother and shared out amongst friends.

Lammas is a perfect time to finish off projects that you began in the summer, particularly outdoor projects, for example clearing the weeds in your garden.
Lughnasadh is a time of personal reflection and harvest, of our actions and deeds, events and experiences, our gains and losses. This magickal time of Lammas is a time when we look to reflect upon the changes that are taking place right now. This is a wonderful period for personal fertility magic to ensure the bountiful harvest of life's gifts and experiences, that which we have reaped though trial, tribulation, enjoyment, joy, love and loss.

We are reminded once again of the cyclic universe; endings are merely new beginnings. Lugh the Sun King dies now at the time of Lammas. His energy and strength goes back into the grain and is given back to the land ready to be born again next spring. We are reminded because of this of the circle of life and how crucial this is.
Enjoy this time of Lammas however you intend to celebrate it. I have tried to find as much information as I can about the history surrounding this time on the wheel of the year across the globe. If you have any other stories to tell of how Lammas was celebrated in the past or present I would love to hear from you.

Sources: I have found my information from various sites all over the internet. Also the following books are excellent sources for wheel of the year information:
Pagan in the City: How to Live and Work by Natural Cycles in the Everyday World Sacred Celebrations : A Sourcebook
Creating Circles & Ceremonies: Rituals for All Seasons And Reasons

Brightest blessings of the Sun god Lugh to you, Alison xxx


  1. Hi Alison. You were recommended to me from Stacy. I love your blog and all the positivity. Great post and I look forward to following you. Have a beautiful day!

    1. Ah bless her heart and bless you that's so nice, thank you so much for visiting. I hope you have a beautiful day too, bright wishes, Alison xxx

  2. Hi Alison ;o) I am so happy Rasz came by ;o) I do love your blog! I feel so good, every time I visit ;o) This is a beautiful post! I love all the information ;o) Big Hugs ;o)

    1. hi that was so nice of her and so lovely of you to recommend me, big hug so you both xxx

  3. Oh my, I've been so busy I haven't been paying attention to the date. Thank you very much for the reminder!

    1. they come along so quick don't they the festivals, I feel I only just get writing about one and I'm writing the next one! I'm hoping next year will be easier I'll have done a lot of ground work then! Enjoying it though! xxx