Lughnasadh – The First Harvest

A Lughnasadh sunset with a clear deep blue sky over a golden field of grain.

The Wheel of the Year turns, and Pagans around the world celebrate Lughnasadh, otherwise known as Lammas, the First Harvest.

A Lughnasadh Prayer

Hoof and Horn
Hoof and Horn
All that dies will be reborn!
Corn and Grain
Corn and Grain
All that falls shall rise again!

Traditional Pagan round

Summer will not last forever. No matter how we try to deny or ignore it, this fact persists in the back of our sun-addled minds. Yet it is only by recognizing the fleeting nature of this superior season that one can embrace and consume the fullness of the Earth’s bounty at its highest point. This is the thinking behind Lughnasadh, also called Lammas, which will take place on August 1 & 2 and is celebrated by Witches, Pagans, and other Heathens all over the Northern Hemisphere.

Small Lughnasadh corn dolly with a brown cape and antlers made of corn husks, with a woven pentagram made of wheat behind it
Contemporary Corn Dolly of Lugh created and photographed by Mountainash333

One of the Greater Cross-Quarter Sabbats, Lammas translates loosely to “loaf mass.”

This is the first of three harvests of the year, the moment when we gather the very best of our year’s efforts. This celebration was a multiday festival for some cultures. But nearly all celebrations culminated in the sacrifice of the regent or King, who was the living symbol of the Sun God. Sometimes a proxy like a bull or another animal was brought in. Sometimes it was prisoners of war who were sacrificed. And sometimes these sacrifices were only symbolic, taking place in a mock battle where the old King “died” and the new King bested him.

Depending on the culture and era, it may be the Goddess who kills him, or his successor, or he may sacrifice himself. Regardless, the metaphor represents the process of this light-bearing deity pumping themselves up to their final form, then being harvested at that pinnacle moment of their power for the ultimate benefit of the people and the land. It is this intense power shift that kicks off a series of events that lead to the Solar God’s upcoming journey through the Underworld that is fall and winter.

A painting of The Holly King vs. The Oak King, arm wrestling over a wooded table in a forest with sunlight streaming in on one side, and moonlight streaming in on the other. One is dressed in brown foliage, one in green. Lughnasadh
“The Eternal Struggle” Angela Jayne Barnett

Pagans of old would have observed Lammas in several ways.

The most common was baking a loaf of bread with grains from the literal first armful of the first harvest. This loaf was treated differently by various Pagan groups. Some split up the bread, and everyone working the harvest got a small bite. Another tradition was to break up the loaf and sprinkle the crumbs in the fields, returning the energy back to the land. Yet another practice was to cut the loaf into quarters and place them in the corners of the grain storage, to protect the harvest as it came in. Another nearly universal custom was to leave the last stalk of grain standing in the filed. To cut it was to signify a lack of faith that more grain would rise.

A black and white photo of a person wearing a hat, a dark vest, white shirt, and tan pants using a sickle to harvest grains. Lughnasadh
Person harvesting rye in Kansas, USA

Pagans didn’t focus solely on the land, and its capacity to produce. They also honored sources of water. Ancient peoples would have gone out to the local well, river or pond and “dressed” it with garlands, flowers, and art, honoring all the sources of abundance in their world.

Other Lughnasadh or Lammas traditions included purifying and warding the home, reaffirmed commitments to friends and loved ones, trying to wrap up unfinished projects and deals, and looking at what could be sacrificed in their lives.

Ritual sacrifice plays a key role at Lughnasadh, and has been a part of cultures around the world throughout time. Those who think that we no longer partake in such traditions need only look at our modern propensity toward war, which is a potent form of sacrifice—August has historically seen more wars than any other month. Many of the deities and heroes worshiped at this time of year are warriors, leaders, and light-bringers, such as the Irish Lugh, Egyptian Hatshepsut, and Greek Prometheus. A sacrifice does not always entail blood, however. It is just as appropriate to the season to offer our “sins” to be sacrificed: our prejudices, our unhealthy habits, our lazy ways of thinking—the “dross” in us that holds us back from being a “light-bringer.” We each carry a sacred fire in us that could light up the world if we could share it, but it is often buried under doubt, insecurities, and fear. What is holding you back from being a source of light to your community? What’s holding back the people around you?

There’s one other element to this holiday: Death. This is the last six weeks of the Sun’s full power, and after this, the days get shorter and colder. Crom Dubh, the “Dark Crooked One” of Irish myth, has his holy day at this time too. Like the dark spot on the bright side of the Yin-Yang symbol, Crom arrives in the heart of the heat and Sun to remind you, this is finite.
The Wheel turns.
I encourage you to drink deeply of the golden summer while we have it.
***

LUGHNASADH RITUAL ELEMENTS

PLANT HELPERS

Poppies, Roses, Chamomile, Oakmoss, Any Citrus

STONE HELPERS

Amber, Carnelian, Sunstone, Pyrite, Lapis, Fossils, Geodes of any stone

THEMES FOR MEDITATION

  • What can you begin to harvest from this year’s growth cycle?
  • What loose ends or toxic situations are draining you? How can you deal with unresolved issues in a positive way?
  • Can you anticipate what is in the upcoming harvests? Go to the Earth. Lay on it. Breath it in. What does it say?

WITCH’S WORK

Power, Transformation, Leadership, Production, Fertility


Read more:
Harvesting Lughnasadh Symbols in the Tarot
The Thrust of Summer

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