Time: Sunset 31 July-sunset 2 August (31 January-2 February in the southern hemisphere)
Focus: Willing sacrifice for the greater good, natural justice and karma, trusting the cosmos to provide by giving without seeking immediate return; also spiritual transformation, renewal of the life force by absorbing the powers of the spirit of the corn through food and drink.
This is the festival of the corn harvest, called Lammas or Loafmass, when on 1 August the first loaf is baked from the harvested wheat. It corresponds to the Christian harvest festival when in some churches corn is still offered on the altar, but the concept of offering up the first fruits to the deities in return for abundance throughout the year is a very ancient one.
The Lammas loaf, made in the pagan tradition from the last sheaf of corn to be cut down, was regarded as sacred by very early agricultural societies onwards. Before Christian times, it was believed to contain the spirit of the corn; the barley fermented by the autumn equinox was the blood of the Corn God, or the spirit of the crops, who in popular folk song was called John Barleycorn. This is probably the origin of the Wiccan cakes and ale ceremony. This last sheaf was cut by a number of people casting their sickles simultaneously, so no one would know who killed the Corn God, though he offered himself willingly so that there would be abundant future harvests.
As well as being used to make the harvest loaf, some of the corn was woven into corn dollies, a symbol of the Earth Mother, decorated with the scarlet ribbons of Frigg, the Norse Mother Goddess. These corn dollies would be hung over domestic hearths throughout winter. Some were made into the shape of a Corn Mother or a cornucopia, or horn of plenty, and others was tied into knots that bound in the
power and protection. This art continues today in rural places.
The old name for this month in the Celtic Coligny calendar was Claim-time, when debts would be collected and contracts were arranged. Trial marriages for a year and a day were frequently set up at Lammas, by young couples simply joining hands through a holed stone – they could renew the contract annually if they wished.
Lammas evolved over the centuries into an occasion for craft fairs and festivals, with people travelling from miles around to sell their wares. There were also parades by the trade guilds, and hiring fairs where workers were found to help in the fields for the summer weeks.
Nowadays, the festival energies are good for fighting injustice for oppressed people or creatures, especially for making sure that workers in Third World countries are not exploited financially; for teaching new skills so that people in poor lands and deprived areas may have a chance to create their own prosperity, and for all acts of unpublicised charity.
On a personal level, Lughnassadh is potent for rituals concerning justice, rights, contracts, business affairs, regularising finances and seeking advancement in career; for personal and legal commitments and partnerships of all kinds; also for learning new skills and trades and for mature people in their forties and fifties.
Candle colours: Dark orange and yellow candles, to reflect the coming of autumn, and purple for justice
Symbols: Ears of corn, corn dollies, anything made of straw; bread, cereals of all kinds
Crystals: Brown agate, desert rose, fossilised wood, leopardskin jasper
Flowers, herbs, oils and incenses: Cedarwood, cornflowers, Chamomile, cinnamon, fenugreek, ginger, myrtle, rosewood and sunflowers
A Lughnassadh Ritual For Renewing The Sacred Exchange With The Earth
You can work around dusk, either alone or in a group or perhaps invite a friend or family member to share the ritual.
* Bake or buy a round loaf of wholegrain bread and a small bottle of barley wine, organic ale or a fresh fruit juice.
* Place the bread in a straw basket and surround it with ears of grain or dried grasses and pour the wine, ale or juice into a pottery jug.
* Light first a large, orange candle on a very large, fireproof tray and place it so that light falls on the food and drink.
* Burn gentle Chamomile, Cedarwood or rosewood oil or incense, saying: Spirit of the corn, I thank you for your bounty for giving your life for the life of the land and the people. I offer in return my crafts and skills.
* Take an ear of grain, straw, or a dried grass and pass it through the oil vapour or incense smoke and then begin to weave a knot, saying:
I offer … [make a pledge, however small, of some way you can use your abilities for the good of the
family/workplace/community or any project dear to your heart].
* Now take a second grass and pass it through the candle flame, then weave it into the first, forming asecond knot, this time asking for something you or your loved ones need.
* Place your miniature corn knot in a straw basket, continuing to make a double knot of pledges and needs, until you have exhausted your ingenuity. Pass each through the incense and the candle. (If you are working with others you can take it in turns to make and name your corn knots and place them in the basket. If you have a joint goal as a coven, you can work on a large knot to represent the collective energies and needs, by making individual knots and binding them together with red ribbon.)
* Then take the bread and raise it above the candle, saying:
I give thanks for this the willing gift and offer the first fruits to the Earth Mother who transforms and
restores all in the ever-turning Wheel.
* Crumble some bread either on to the ground if you are working out of doors or into a large wooden or ceramic dish.
* Break the bread in its dish and offer it to anyone present before eating yourself.
* Take the wine or ale and raise it above the candle, saying:
We give thanks and offer this free-flowing life force to the Earth Mother who reforms and renews all in
the ever-turning circle of the year.
* Pour some of the wine either on to the ground or into the dish with the crumbled bread and pour the wine into a glass. (If you are working in a group, pour it into individual glasses and hand them round before serving yourself.)
* After drinking, blow out the candle and say as a rising chorus: Power to the Sun.
* On the final word, blow out the candle.
* Bury your crumbled bread and wine in a hole in the garden or a large plant pot, saying: Grow anew, come forth in the spring and keep your promise as I will mine.
* If you poured the offerings directly on to the ground, plant flowers close by. Keep your dish of knots. Take them out one by one and as you fulfil your pledges cast each into flowing water or from the top of a hill on a very windy day. Before long, your needs should be met, in
a way that should bring you new opportunities, though perhaps not exactly as you planned.