What is Lammas/Lughnasadh?

All about this ancient festival of the first grain harvest

Table of Contents

When is Lammas in the UK this year?

Lammas/Lughnasadh takes place on Tuesday 1st August 2023.

A bit of context

Now is the time of the first harvest. Grain is glowing gold across the fields; early blackberries can be spotted bursting into red along the hedgerows and we are reaping what we have sown.

Ancient Celts celebrated the god Lugh (hence Lughnasadah) at this time. Lugh is a Celtic god who is known for being good at everything – the “many-skilled god’ – but known particularly for his craftmanship, skills as a warrior and artistic talents. He is also known to be a patron saint of magicians and bards. The story goes that Lugh hosted a harvest fair in tribute to his foster mother Tailtiu, and so became synonymous with grain.

a field of wheat in summer, the time of lammas: the first grain harvest

This day was August 1st, which would later be celebrated by Christians as Lammas – originating from the Saxon “half maesse” or “loaf mass”: the bread that is baked and shared at this time from harvested grain, and also the sacrificial bread shared at communion.

The weaving together of two different festivals is common across The Wheel of the Year, as many Christian traditions have foundations in pagan ritual. Not to mention, there are many similarities with the Wheel of the Year sabbats and other religious, spiritual, folkloric or cultural celebrations across the globe.

What is Lammas/Lughnasadh?

Lammas therefore is a grain festival: the first of the three harvests (The Autumn Equinox/Mabon is the fruit/veg harvest, Samhain is the blood harvest). Summer days can still feel sticky and hot, but our nights are lengthening, and the slide is tilting towards the autumn Earth.

We are now in the Mother aspect of the triple goddess: the grain crop is abundant now, but the seed must withdraw into the darkness to ensure a healthy harvest next year. The story of Persephone mirrors this. Demeter is her mother, the Grain Mother (in Roman mythology she is Cerealia) and Persephone’s retreat into the underworld reflects the retreat we must all do in the darker half of the year, to rest and renew ready to bud in Spring.

a bee sits upon white and pink flowers in the foreground, a field of golden wheat and grass in the background

At Lammas, this crack into the underworld is opening. We begin to shed our outer layer, our external energy, and withdraw inwards to the intuition and wisdom of the Crone energy. As Glennie Kindred says in Sacred Earth Celebrations:

“The Cauldron of Regeneration was central to Celtic spiritual understanding. We are renewed by sleep and darkness, through many deaths and rebirths”.

Perhaps due to Lugh’s reputation as craftsman, this would have historically been a time for travelling fairs and crafts. Once the last crop had been gathered in, huge community celebrations would ensue including much feasting, dancing and merriment. An ancient version of ‘work hard, play hard’, if you will!

Who is John Barleycorn?

A smiley scarecrow decoration in a checked shirt and burgundy dungarees!
The back of a scarecrow decoration

Are you wondering – who is John Barleycorn? John Barleycorn is the haunting spirit of the harvest who has appeared throughout popular culture (The Wicker Man) and of course the famous Robert Burns poem:

“There was three kings into the east,

Three kings both great and high,

And they hae sworn a solemn oath

John Barleycorn should die.”

This poem follows the upsetting tale of John Barleycorn being struck down, killed and slowly transformed into whisky. This is the concept of the crops being ‘sacrificed’ in order to keep a community fed, and for the plants to spring back again next year renewed. It reminds me of a lyric from one of my favourite songs April Come She Will by Simon and Garfunkel:

“August, die she must.”

Again, we are reminded of this concept that in the great wheel of life, we must die to regenerate.

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Symbolic Plants at Lammas

a gorse bush hugs the side of a field

Hazel

Helps to unblock creative stagnation and assists you in deepening your inner wisdom

Gorse

Symbolic of the learning opportunities that arise through hard work, and the wisdom that is gained

a close up photo of meadowsweet

Meadowsweet

It was once custom to wear garlands woven from Meadowsweet at Lammas. Meadowsweet symbolises peace and inner strength.

Sage

A herb to cleanse negative energy, help you express yourself creatively emotionally & access inner wisdom

How Can I Celebrate Lammas?

Go outside

blackberries along a hedgerow, overlooking the sea at night and a gorgeous pink sunset

Nature Spotting

Go for a walk. Make a note of anything you spot that is a sign of Autumn on her way. Take time to really notice what you love about this time of year. Engage all of your senses – what is your favourite smell? What is your favourite plant or flower? What is your favourite sensation?

A campfire in the woods. Lighting a campfire with loved ones is one way to celebrate Lammas.

Light a Campfire

Ancient pagans would have travelled to Lammas Mounds such as Avebury to light ritual fires. Gather friends and family around a campfire: sing songs and share stories (and maybe make a vegan s’more or three!)

Get Creative

a journal, pink flower and green mug of tea.

Write

As Lugh is thought to be the patron saint of bards and magicians, have a go at writing your own poem, song or play. 

A chessboard.

Play games!

Lugh is also the god of skill and talent, thought to be an impressive warrior. Back in the day, sporting competitions would be held to try and impress your community, and of course Lugh himself! In this spirit, you could hold your own sports day,  family game of rounders/baseball or even a board games night!

A field of wheat.

Make a corn dolly

Across Europe, there were/are a plethora of symbolic rituals that accompany the cutting of the first and last sheaf of corn. One such ritual is to make a corn dolly or ‘corn maiden’. Have a look at how to craft one here

Reflect

a woman drinks a glass of water by a window overlooking a green garden

Notice your Achievements

If you didn’t at the Summer Solstice, make a list of everything you are proud of about yourself, or any achievements you have made. As Lugh is the ‘many-skilled God’, take time to reflect on all of the skills that you possess. This could be anything from kindness and caring for others – to your wizardry in the kitchen, painting skills or physical prowess!

A tree against a blue grey sky.

Express gratitude

Write a gratitude list or perform a gratitude ritual. Scribble down everything you are grateful for or share with others at a collective dinner. As you walk outside, bless with love all that nature provides us – nod thanks to the sky, the fields of wheat, the early-bird blackberries hugging the edges of the pavement.

A woman writes in her notebook. A cup of tea and slice of cake sit on the table.

Journal

Prompts could include: What is my favourite thing about this time of year? What makes me feel connected to nature/the universe/my concept of higher love? What can I do to nourish that? What appears to be harvesting in my life right now – is it my love life, my friendship group, my career, my relationship with myself, my home-life, my creativity, my hobbies (or anything else)? As the crop is gathered now to see us through the depths of winter, is there anything I can be doing for myself to help me through the darker half of the year – what soulful stores can I collect? Are there any skills I can be using to help serve others or my community? Is there anything I want to have achieved by the Autumn Equinox, Samhain or the Winter Solstice?

Bake, Prepare, Help, Decorate

Bake Bread

Or any baking kitchen witchery. Craft a simple loaf or rolls, or try something more elaborate such as a plait

 

A woman takes a spoonful of jam from a glass jar.

Prepare Preserves

 & Jams and jellies for your cupboard (or ‘store stump’ as illustrated in my favourite Brambly Hedge storybooks by Jill Barklem). Pop berries in your freezer ready to scatter over winter porridge! You can also collect seeds and keep them in labelled paper bags ready to plant in the Spring (just make sure to not take too many seeds – leave enough for our animal friends!)

 

a grey armchair with an orange cushion sitting by a window, with a green glass filled with flowers on the windowsill.

Decorate your home

With: foraged flowers; colours of yellow, gold, orange and green and with barley, corn; sheaves of grasses and wheat; foraged flowers etc.

 

Donate to a food bank

Either with any cash you have to spare (to a local or national charity such as The Trussell Trust) or by donating physical items your local food bank needs (you can usually find a shopping list of needed items at local supermarkets such as Tesco – items such as nappies and sanitary towels are always helpful)

 

A table of craft supplies - lots of multicoloured pots of different shapes and sizes filled with paintbrushes!

Make A Jar Of Light

Take an old jam jar and fill it with helpful quotes, stories, memories or affirmations. Get as creative as you like – you can use coloured paper, crafty tape, illustrations – or keep it simple. Pop on a shelf or somewhere safe. This symbolically represents storing away the sunshine for days when you really need it in the darker half of the year. On a grizzly day in November, you can turn to your Light Jar and feel uplifted.

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Moon Magick

Engage in an August Full Moon Ritual. The August Full Moon falls exactly on Lammas this year, the 1st August. The Celts would have referred to this Moon as the ‘Grain Moon’ (due to the grain harvest) or ‘The Moon of Dispute’ as this was a time to settle affairs and often the day the rent would be taken and salaries paid. Light a candle to mark Lammas, or the Full Moon, and make a wish or set an intention.

Browse our sustainable, soulful candle collection here

Final Thoughts

Lammas is a summer celebration, but it is also an early nod towards the onset of autumn. Now is the time to embrace the light days and fresh air, to gather with loved ones and bask in the sunshine. It is also a time to take pride in your achievements, to begin reflecting on all that has happened as the solar energy begins to wane and to express gratitude for nature’s beautiful abundance. With one toe in summer, and one toe in autumn; this is a soulful opportunity to be both bold and brave and expressive within the world, whilst quietly reflective too. As Lammas is a cross quarter festival, we know that change is coming, and it is time to prepare.

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In the modern, fast-paced world we live in today; dominant structures would like us to live as if we are summer constantly. Capitalism, ‘hustle culture’ – place all of our worth as dependent on how much money we can make. Our value = our productivity levels. Summer, a time of great harvest, is therefore the promoted state to always exist in – capitalism would have us forever be in harvest. It is no wonder why so many of us feel exhausted, burnt out and anxious – for this is impossible.

Lammas is here to remind us that summer cannot last forever. (Metaphorical) death, retreat and renewal are essential – vital – for all of us. Whilst the concept of rest is not widely promoted in our society (apart from when it can be made into profit in some way – the huge sprawling industry of wellness, for example) – it is a crucial. Our slow crawl back into the womb of winter is a necessary and vital part of life in order for us to rest and renew for the spring.

MOVE WITH THE SEASONS

For a simple way to honour the cadence of nature, we have a candle for each of the four seasons, reflecting the natural aromas at each turn of the year. These help us to tune into the changing rhythms of nature and bring the outside in.

fresh & citral

notes of bergamot & mint

sweet & exotic

notes of citrus & patchouli

spicy & herbal

notes of cedarwood & thyme

sweet & woody

notes of orange & fir needle

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