Friday, 26 August 2016


I AM SO SORRY. I have been remiss - Because the pagan/natural cycles are woven into my Lovers' Wheel series, I'm taking a look in 2016 at the four great Celtic festivals, the most important festivals of the neo-pagan year. I've covered Imbolc and Beltane previously, but I'm several weeks late for poor old Lammas!

LAMMAS ("loaf mass") is also known as LUGHNASADH, the assembly sacred to the god Lugh. It takes place on 31st July / 1st August. Like the others it is a fire-festival, and marks a turning point in the agricultural year: in this case the first harvest feast, and the start of Autumn.

This is triple-faced Lugh:

He's one of those multi-functional Irish warrior-gods of craft, law, battle, the sun, storms and generally strutting round being very manly. He also invented a boardgame, fidchell, which makes him a bit geeky.

Lugh's Enclosure (1912) by Ernest Wallcousins
The Lughnasadh festival was a specifically founded as funeral games for Lugh's foster-mother, Taillte, an agricultural goddess who cleared the whole Ireland for farming - and then died of exhaustion. (Remember, Imbolc features imagery of a pure young girl, Beltane a horny young maiden: Lughnasadh is founded on a sacrificial mother-goddess, even if she doesn't get the name credit).

Festivals took place on hilltops and included feasting, matchmaking, athletic contests, an offering of the first fruits of the year (bilberries and blackberries and apples), and a bull sacrifice. All these customs were kept on by the Christian Church, including making pilgrimage up hills and mountains. Though nowadays the name is mostly remembered for a very depressing movie, Dancing at Lughnasa:

Lughnasadh was also the occasion for "trial weddings" that lasted a year and day! Modern Wiccans and neo-pagans still favour it for handfasting ceremonies.

Edmund Blair Leighton, My Fair Lady (1914)

The Anglo-Saxons / English put more emphasis on Lammas ("hlaf-mas") being a festival to do with wheat - the bringing in and baking of the first sheaf, and its dedication in the local church. Cereal crops, of course, keep through winter in a way summer fruit don't.

With regard to the year's cycle, Lammas takes place when the slide from high Summer into the shorter darker days has become noticeable. If the year has gone well and the gods are kind, the harvest is bountiful. It is a time of comparative plenty and thankfulness, a huge amount of hard work in the fields, of reaping rewards but also preparing the community against the Winter to come - rejoicing that takes place under a shadow of encroaching hardship.

Lawrence Alma Tadema, A Harvest Festival, 1880
 This is the time of year that  John Barleycorn, spirit of the barley harvest and pseudo-god of Beer, is sacrificed, according to the folksong:

They hired men with the scythes so sharp
To cut him off down by the knee.
They rolled him and tied him around by the waist,
Served him most barbarously.
They hired men with the sharp pitchforks
Who pierced him to the heart.
But the loader, he served him far worse than that
For he bound him to the cart.
They rode him around and around the field
Till they came into a barn,
And there they made a solemn mow
Of poor John Barleycorn.
They hired men with the crab-tree sticks
Who cut him skin from bone
But the miller, he served him far worse than that
For he ground him between two stones.
Here's little Sir John in the nut-brown bowl
And brandy in a glass.
And little Sir John in the nut-brown bowl
Proved the stronger man at last.
For the hunter, he can't hunt the fox
Nor so loudly blow his horn,
And the tinker, he can't mend his kettles or his pots
Without a little bit of John Barleycorn.

Don't worry, he always comes back

No comments: