When Maiden Becomes Mother
Lammas Traditions from Nebraska to Wales
Once again, we approach the fall rituals of harvest and riches of the Earth Goddess, thankful for Her bounty She bestows on us. Lammas, August 1 (its celebration typically held the night before, July 31), is the time of the first grain harvest, with objects made of grains (wheat, barley, corn and so on – for example, a bundle of corn stalks) being considered very magickal, for they represent the generosity of the Mother.
Lammas is directly contrasted in the wheel of the year to Imbolc. The two holidays represent opposite aspects of the Goddess. At Imbolc She is the Corn Maiden, fresh and new after her winter rest, and at Lammas She is the Corn Mother, the crone with all development and fruitfulness coming to an end. Lammas also involves the Sun King becoming the Dark Lord, giving of his energy to the crops to ensure life. It is the time of the death of summer and the start of fall, with the days growing shorter and the foliage ending its growth and fruit-bearing cycles. It is the time to share the fruits of the earth, of your own accomplishments with others.
Almost every culture has a celebration in thankfulness for the reaping of the crops in this time of year.
The Celts knew this holiday as Lughnasadn (pronounced loo-na-sa), celebrating the harvest of the grains, marking the last days of the sun god, Lugh. However, races and games that were held in Lugh’s name were more the funeral games for Lugh’s mother, the goddess Tailtiu, in her time of being crone. The Celts believed that the grain held the spirit of the harvest; as each sheaf was cut, the next would absorb the spirit energy of the cut sheaf. Thus, when reapers came to the last sheaf, it contained the whole spirit of the field. A corn doll was made of it in the image and honor of the Mother. In some groups, the person gathering the last grain, often in some special feat of sickle-wielding, was honored by receiving the magick of the grain. Lammas was also a time for Tailltean marriages, informal marriages that lasted a year and a day, similar to handfastings.
In the Bronze Age, there was a Lughnasadn tradition that a High King or God King was chosen then to serve a year and a day, after which his reign ended and so did his life in honor of the Goddess. He was a symbol of the grain, which has to die before its seeds are sown. As by request of Lugh himself, this ritual was put to an end and a great feast was instituted in its place.
The English (Saxons) called this holiday Lammas, “loaf mass,” the mass after the loaves are made from the new grain. At Lammas, couples would run hand-in-hand over bonfires to purify their relationships, a tradition perhaps connected to the Celtic Tailltean marriages.
The Welsh also had a Lammas holiday, and using the muscles gained from the summer work, they held games to test their strength. These games are still held today, alternating between North and South Wales.
The Italian streghe (witches) associated this holiday with the symbol of the cornucopia overflowing with fruit and the harvest grains.
When I was a young girl, we in Nebraska had our own ritual when the big combines would roll into our small farming town. My girlfriends and I would spread out on lawn chairs in my front yard – my house was closest to the road – and watch the hired Texan and Oklahoman farmhands steer those massive machines into our area. Watching the men work, their young muscles bronze and sweaty, over the corn harvest, we would place bets – betting our tip money (very vital since it also was our party money) on which boy we could charm with our wiles and snatch a few intimate moments with. Ah, the harvest we had!
Whatever your celebration ritual may be, let us all remember this is a time for appreciating all that She has given us and for sharing that bounty with others. Enjoy your Lammas!