Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Funeral Games and the First Harvest: Lughnasadh & Lammas

It was upon a Lammas night,
When corn rigs are bonie,
Beneath the moon's unclouded light,
I held awa' to Annie;
The time flew by, wi' tentless heed;
Till, 'tween the late and early,
Wi' sma' persuasion she agreed
To see me thro' the barley.

Corn rigs, an' barley rigs,
An' corn rigs are bonie;
I'll ne'er forget that happy night,
Among the rigs wi' Annie.

The sky was blue, the wind was still,
The moon was shining clearly;
I set her down, wi' right good will,
Amang the rigs o' barley:
I ken't her heart was a' my ain;
I lov'd her most sincerely;
I kiss'd her owre and owre again,
Amang the rigs o' barley.

I lock'd her in my fond embrace;
Her heart was beating rarely:
My blessings on that happy place,
Amang the rigs o' barley!
But by the moon and stars so bright,
That shone that hour so clearly!
She ay shall bless that happy night
Amang the rigs o' barley.

I hae been blythe wi' comrades dear;
I hae been merry drinking;
I hae been joyfu' gath'rin' gear;
I hae been happy thinking:
But a' the pleasures e'er I saw,
Tho' three times doubl'd fairly ---
That happy night was worth them a',
Amang the rigs o' barley.

~ Corn Rigs & Barley Rigs by Robert Burns

It's pretty hard for me to believe that it is the end of July already, and almost time (that is if we were on time!) for the first major harvest. We haven't had much of a Summer so far, so I am hoping that August is a little more warm and dry!

August 1st generally marks Lughnasadh and Lammas, although depending on where you are, and what the season has been like, it can differ. Other names for this time is Calan Awst in Wales, Láa Luanys in the Isle of Man, and Lùnasdal in Scotland.

Lughnasadh is an ancient Gaelic holiday, that has a few theories on how it potentially began. The one that I have come across most is that it started off as a time of funeral games in commemoration for the Tailtiu, the foster mother of Lugh. She had died after clearing the land in Co Meath.

Another claim is that it was a festival that originally began to celebrate Lugh becoming king.

During this feast there would be different contests for people to participate in to show off their skills and strength, and also horse racing, which is still a popular sport in Ireland. This was also apparently a time to announce engagements and to arrange betrothals.

Photo from Hello, I am Bruce

Lammas, which was also celebrated at this time of year has its roots as a Germanic solar festival--as an aside, many folks (including myself) get peevish when it is called the 'Saxon version' of Lughnasadh. Historically the Germanic peoples followed a different calendar than the Celts, and even if two of their festivals fell around the same time, I think it is pretty disrespectful and dishonest to just lump them together--and was an agrarian holiday. It was widely celebrated in England, and apparently the name stems from 'loaf-mas'.

One of the customs for Lammas was to bring the first loaf made from the harvest to the church, which would sometimes be used in holy communion.

There were also varying customs that had to do with the last of the harvest at this time of year.

A ritual in Ulster called 'snagging the cailliagh', where as the last sheaf of wheat stood, the harvesters would throw their scythes at it until it was cut down (Land, Sea & Sky). In Religion and Myth, James McDonald describes a custom that was carried out in Aberdeen Scotland:

...the last sheaf cut, or "maiden," is carried home in merry procession by the harvesters. It is then presented to the mistress of the house, who dresses it up to be preserved till the first mare foals. The maiden is then taken down and presented to the mare as its first food. The neglect of this would have untoward effects upon the foal, and disastrous consequences upon farm operations generally for the season.

In folklore there is quite a bit of mention of John Barleycorn, who may be a representation of a God of vegetation. In Robert Burns' version of the song John Barleycorn, it weaves a story about poor old John being sacrificed, and there are many other ballads that have a similar theme. He personifies the crop, which must die (be harvested) so others may go on living.

Photo from Hello, I am Bruce

Both Lammas and Lughnasadh are celebrated today, especially by neo Pagans. Festivities often include dancing, music, games, feasting, harvest rituals, bonfires, and crafting.

When the time is appropriate, I will be doing a harvest ritual, which is my own variation of the Reaping Blessing found in the Carmina Gadelica. I think it is also a good idea to leave a nice offering of the best of the crop not only to a God or Goddess of the field/agriculture, but also to the land spirits. This can either be done as a prepared food or a food item 'as is'.

Leaving food out as an offering, which the critters would surely enjoy, or donating food to a local organization in need are both suitable, I would say.

A craft with some tradition is making 'corn dollies' or other effigies of a Deity of the harvest. Making garlands of grains, flowers, and other harvested items make great decorations and can also be made as offerings. I have heard (I forget where now!) that sometimes garlands were buried in a sacred spot to signify the end of the warm season.

If erecting an altar, obvious choice decorations are harvested items, but also flowers such as sunflowers and blackeyed susans. Animals that can be associated with this time of year are cattle, sheep, and horses. You also might consider adding yellow, green, and red candles, as well as gemstones such as citrine, aventurine, amber, and peridot.

Here are a few photos for inspiration:

Photo from RuTemple

Photos from Sinjy

Photos from malpagaia

For some recipe ideas, you can check out this post that I did this time last year. And finally, check out this video of Damh the Bard performing Lughnasadh Dance:




bek said...

Ace! I love the flower and straw wreath. And now I know what Lammas refers to aswell. I come here to find out all sorts of things :D
Of course, I could google it but here's always such a winner!

nefaeria said...

Wow, thank you for the glowing comments! You're welcome back anytime. :)

And yes, the wreath is so pretty!

Anonymous said...

great information as always! btw, i like your choice of ritual.

Hertha said...

Perfect as always! Happy lammas!

nefaeria said...

Thanks Hertha & Anon! :)

TitusL said...

Wonderful Post thank you :D
Thought you might like my machinima film,
The Lammas Wickerman
Bright Blessings