a guide to the Sabbat’s symbolism
by Arwynn MacFeylynnd
Date: August 1 or 2.
Alternative names: Lughnassadh, Lammastide, August Eve, Harvest Home, Ceresalia (Roman, in honor of the grain goddess Ceres), First Fruits, Festival of Green Corn (Native American), Feast of Cardenas, Cornucopia (Strega), Thingtide and Elembiuos. Lammas, an Anglo-Saxon word, means “loaf mass.” Lughnassadh is named for the Irish sun god Lugh (pronounced Loo), and variant spellings are Lughnasadh, Lughnasad, Lughnassad, Lughnasa and Lunasa.
Primary meanings: This festival has two aspects. First, it is one of the Celtic fire festivals, honoring the Celtic culture-bringer Lugh (Lleu to the Welsh, Lugus to the Gauls). In Ireland, races and games were held in his name and that of his mother, Tailtiu (these may have been funeral games). Second, the holiday is the Saxon Feast of Bread, at which the first of the grain harvest is consumed in ritual loaves. These aspects are not too dissimilar, as the shamanic death and transformation of Lleu can be compared to that of the Barley God, known from the folksong “John Barleycorn.”
Lammas celebrates the first of three harvest celebrations in the Craft. It marks the beginning of autumn, the start of the harvest cycle, and relies on the early crops of ripening grain and any fruits and vegetables ready to be harvested. It is associated with bread because grain is one of the first crops harvested. Those in the Craft often give thanks and honor now to gods and goddesses of the harvest, as well as those who represent death and resurrection.
Symbols: All grains, especially corn and wheat, corn dollies, sun wheels, bread, harvesting and threshing tools and the harvest full moon. Altar decorations might include corn dollies or kirn babies (corncob dolls) to symbolize the Mother Goddess of the Harvest. Other appropriate decorations include summer flowers and grains. You might also wish to have a loaf of whole cracked wheat or multigrain bread upon the altar, baked in the shape of the sun.
Colors: Red, orange, gold, yellow, citrine, green, grey and light brown.
Gemstones: Yellow diamonds, aventurine, sardonyx, peridot and citrine.
Herbs: Acacia flowers, aloes, chamomile, cornstalks, cyclamen, fenugreek, frankincense, heather, hollyhock, myrtle, oak leaves, passionflower, rose, rose hips, rosemary, sandalwood, sunflowers and wheat.
Gods and goddesses: Lugh, Thor, John Barleycorn (the personification of malt liquor), Demeter, Danu, Ceres, sun gods, corn mothers, all grain and agriculture deities, mother goddesses and father gods.
Customs and myths: Spellwork for prosperity, abundance and good fortune are especially appropriate now, as well as spells for connectedness, career, health and financial gain. Sacrifice is often associated with this holiday. Visits to fields, orchards, lakes and wells are also traditional. It is considered taboo not to share your food with others now.
Activities appropriate for this time of the year are baking bread, wheat weaving and making corn dollies or other god and goddess symbols. You may want to string Indian corn on black thread to make a necklace, or bake cornbread sticks shaped like little ears of corn for your Sabbat cakes. The corn dolly may be used both as a fertility amulet and as an altar centerpiece.
Some pagans bake Lammas bread in the form of a god-figure or sun wheel — if you do this, be sure to use this bread in your Lammas ritual’s cakes and ale ceremony, if you have one. During the Lammas ritual, some consume bread or something from the first harvest. Some gather first fruits; others symbolically throw pieces of bread into a fire.