As the corn ripens in the fields and fruits swell in orchards and gardens, our spring seeds are blossoming and bringing forth sweetness and nourishment in to our lives. Our baskets are full. The slowly fading sun shines still sings of summer, but we are gathering ourselves to turn inwards and prepare for the changes ahead. First we celebrate the beginning of the harvest season, the generosity of the Earth Mother and life-force of Father Sun.
Lammas or Lughnassadh is one of the four fire festivals, marking the celebration of the first harvest and the abundance created from the union of the God and Goddess, the Sun and the Earth. The season is marked by the ripening of the corn; harvested to feed the community throughout the Winter months, and where within are the seeds for next year's growth. With the first harvest we honour the sacrifice of the Grain God and the Sun, now retreating so the darkness may reign again. In recognition of the Goddess of Harvest, the Grain Mother, Demeter, we give thanks for her generosity and bounty as the celebrations pay homage to the fertile Earth.
There are numerous customs associated with the cutting of the first sheaf of corn, reflecting its immense significance to the villagers of times before. The first sheaf would often be ceremonially cut at dawn, winnowed, ground and baked into the harvest bread which was then shared by the community in gratitude, binding them together as a village. The first barley stalks would be made into the first ale of the season and enjoyed as autumn rolls in. The last sheaf was also ceremonially cut, often made into a 'corn dolly' and carried to the village with great festivity in preparation for their Harvest Supper. The corn dolly was either made into a Corn Maiden (after a good harvest) or a cailleach, hag or cone (after a bad harvest). These customs remind us to honour and give thanks for all the earth's gifts and bless the food we eat and the journey it has made to arrive on our plate. It is a miraculous thing to ponder - just take a few minutes before your dinner to consider how each item arrived there...
Lughnassadh is named after the sun God Lugh, the Shining One, also known as Samildanach by the Irish - the Many-Skilled, the God of all the arts and skills of human culture. With the sun still high in the sky, warming the corn, grain and swelling the summer fruits, Lughnassadh is a celebration of the life-giving energy of the Sun and the passage of its descent. The Sun is beginning to wane as it slowly surrenders to the dark, and we are gradually returning inwards, ready for the inner journey of Winter. Whilst we are enjoying the seasonal festivities and generosity of the natural world, we must have one eye ahead - gathering all the plant medicines, nuts, fruits and seeds we need to see us through until the rebirth off spring.
As we connect with the Sun God, we can reflect upon ways we connect with the light, that vital energy and the wisdom of our teachers and elders, those masters of their crafts that have shined their light on our life, to keep our fires ablaze. Also to consider what skills you have been acquiring and learning this past solar cycle - what are you harvesting? Take some time around Lughnassadh to reflect on your journey this year, your growth and achievements, and what you have learnt about yourself. As we prepare to sacrifice ourselves to the inner journey, what are the resources you are taking with you to inspire your Winter dreaming? What will nurture and sustain you through the darkness? We are making the transition from fire to water as we spiral towards Autumn, moving from the active, dynamic sun energy, towards the autumnal, yin, receptive energy. With these watery qualities we can begin to turn inwards, gather, reflect and assess. We can prepare to let go, release and surrender.
Since Lugh was skilled at many things, Lammas is often celebrated with plenty of outdoor games in his honour. Traditionally games such as relay races, sack races, archery and tug-of-war would have been played on the village green or community meadow. These days water ballon fights, croquet or an energetic game of frisbee entertain the young whilst reminding the elders to enjoy their playful side and the comfort of the warm summer before the colder passage of the year settles in.
Lughnassadh was often marked with market fairs, bonfire celebrations, feasting and dancing. August was also considered an auspicious time for weddings and handfastings. Tribal gatherings would have been held around this time of year as it was easy to travel and there was plenty of food and drink to go around. Now is the time to join together, open our hearts in generosity and appreciation and celebrate one another.
'Every leaf that grows will tell you: what you sow will bear fruit, so if you have any sense my friend, don't plant anything but Love.'
Also know as the 'Tree of Immortal Wisdom', Hazel has been revered by Druids and medicine since ancient times. In Celtic legend, hazel trees surrounded a sacred pool and as the nuts fell, were eaten by a magical salmon. Absorbing its wisdom, the salmon transformed into a young girl.
At this time of Lammas, Hazel inspires us to create a vision for our future, rooted in earthly wisdom. Spending time with her enables us to listen to the intuitive voice within and create from a place of inspired spontaneity rather than logical planning.
Corn dollies were made at Lammas to bring health, wealth and general prosperity to community and homes. They became the good luck talisman for every farm. To make your corn dolly, gather together long stems of wheat, corn husks, dried alfalfa, or, if you're a city dweller, raffia. Connect with this gift from the Harvest Mother and as you playfully create your own Corn Goddess, infuse the making with your gratitude - sharing aloud what you are thankful for. You can make an abstract figure or a more doll-shaped figure, let you hands guide you. Likewise, the corn dolly can be left simple or dressed in cloth, feathers, and beads. Add her to your Lammas altar, bless her in your ritual fire or with herbs, and let her adorn your home to bring blessings of abundance and goodness to your life. Traditionally she would be returned to the earth when the first seeds are sown the following Spring, or burnt on a ritual fire at Imbolc.
The bread made from the first of the harvested grain was traditionally shared amongst the village as part of a Harvest Supper. With your children, housemates, or happily solo, choose a bread recipe you know and love - or find a new one that looks like fun. Sing to the ingredients as you go, giving thanks to all those people and elements involved in these ingredients reaching your kitchen! Infuse the making with your love, care and joy. Knead the dough with intention, choosing uplifting words to imbue in to the mixture. While the dough is rising and cooking in the oven, spend the time journalling or sharing what you are thankful for at this time of harvest, what has grown in your life, what is nourishing you and inspiring you? With children they can draw what they love about this time of year. Once baked, invite your neighbours or friends together to share the bread at a Lammas picnic or garden party. Invite everyone to share what they are grateful for. And leave some generous crumbs for the birds!
Take the opportunity on Lammas to celebrate your own skills and abilities, and make an offering to Lugh to honor him, the God of Craftsmanship. As soon as you wake up, before speaking, go outside and greet the morning Sun uttering your first words in gratitude for his many gifts. Raise your hands up to the sky drawing down some of his energy, and extend this into a series of sun salutations if this feels good. Create some space to make something in the morning - weave, paint, write, draw, mould, carve, dance. Connect to the life-giving energy of the Sun and let the light and warmth inspire your hands and body to move and make. You might like to explore other Sun dieties for inspiration - Ra, Horus, Helios, Quetzalcoatl, or the Celtic Belenos. Gather some wild food or some edibles from you garden and enjoy a ceremonial snack or meal that acknowledges the power of the Sun in growing these nutritious plants. Finally, build a fire in preparation for sundown and praise the Sun as it sets, singing and drumming your heart songs to give thanks for the journey of the Sun that guides our seasons and days. Beside the fire share aloud your gratitude for your gifts and abilities, the skills you are harvesting in your life. Pledge to tend to these skills and stoke your inner fire through the winter months as the sun retreats. Let the fire guide you on how to conclude your day...
If you have a source of abundant marigold/calendula flowers, ask with love if you can gather a basket-full to make in to healing oil. Cut the flowers on a dry morning and delight in their bright sunshine energy before filling a jar with the flower-heads. Completely cover the flowers with a non-perfumed oil such as almond and seal the lid. Leave the jar on a windowsill - in front of your kitchen sink if possible so you can enjoy the colours and beauty whilst washing-up, and sing to the infusion! Turn the jar every few days to mix the oil. After 3-4 weeks, strain the flowers using some cheesecloth (offer them to your compost pile) and savour the sunshine infused oil in massage oil blends or look online for dozens of amazing ways to use calendula oil in healing recipes for your skin.
Prepare a glass of water - preferably spring water - and place a crystal in the bottom. Lighting a candle as you set your intention to create a space for thanksgiving to honour and remember your teachers. Holding the water in your hands, bring to mind your first real teacher - someone that taught you something valuable, that supported you in some way, or helped you grow in a new direction - you may not always like you teachers! Out loud, say their name and express your gratitude for what they taught you - be specific. Thank them from your heart. Allow your words and gratitude to infuse the water. Repeat this with as many teachers as you feel to - all those who gave you their time, shared their skills and wisdom. When you feel finished, state your intention to remember and embody all the wisdom that has been shared with you as you ceremonially drink some water from the cup. With the water that is left, pour it in to a river, stream or lake, along with the crystal - to share the wisdom, gratitude and blessings with the greater Web of Life.
There are a bounty of healing and cleansing herbs that work well for smudging, and it is always preferable to find what is local to you and available in abundance on your native land. You can either choose one plant or make a herbal medley! Motherwort, rosemary, lavender, pine, cedar, rose and meadowsweet are some of my favourites. Choose a dry morning to go for a gathering walk, setting the intention before you set off to be guided by the spirits of the plants that wish to offer themselves to you, that want to work with you. Drop in to your body and walk as a meditation, paying close attention to your experience and surroundings. Let your senses guide you. If a particular scent captures your attention, find its source. If you recognise it as safe, ask the plant if you can harvest some for your smudge sticks, and if it feels like a 'yes', make an offering of some kind. Birdseed, water or a song. Once home, choose a few stalks of each plant and tie them together at the thicker end. Then wrap the string toward the top of the bundle before returning to the base. Be sure to crisscross tightly, but not to the point where you crush the plants. Hang the bundle upside down in a cool, dry place for at least a week. To use, state your intention (to cleanse, enliven, clear away, bless, uplift) and light the top of the bundle, directing the smoke where you want it - around a room, your body or an object. These are wonderful gifts and will see you through the Winter months with scented, herbal, goodness!
Plan a day for yourself when you can take some time to be in reflection, preferably out in Nature. Have a journal with you and think back to the past Winter and Spring and what you were focused on creating in your life. Where were you directing your energy and what ideas were you incubating? Then consider what has changed in your life since then, what have you learnt, how have things grown, what is not working for you? Whittle these down so you have some succinct words of short sentences that summarise what you are harvesting at this time. You might like to get creative and draw a basket overflowing with these words or weave a basket and add objects to represent the different words. Spend the rest of your day celebrating yourself and your harvest, doing something you love that feeds your soul - enjoying a decadent picnic, a wild swim, crafting, or enjoy a siesta in a hammock (some of my favourites!)