Lammas is also known as: Lughnasadh (Old Irish Lunasa means August), Calan Awst (Welsh, first day of August), Gwyl Awst (Welsh, feast of August) and Feast of First Fruits (Anglo-Saxon Chronicle). The word Lammas is Anglo-Saxon (hlaf-mas, loaf-mass).
Celebrated on 01st August
The Moon at Lammas
The old name for the moon in August on the mainland of the British Isles is ‘Grain Moon’ or ‘Dispute Moon’. The name Grain Moon is obvious; this is the month in which the grain crops become ready to harvest. For the name ‘Dispute Moon’ we have to go back in time to the common practices at Lammas (refer to ‘Historical Context’ below).
Their main focus was the matching of workers with employers for the imminent harvest. However they soon turned into major feasts in their own right with all the other trappings of a fair and a reputation for drunkenness and immorality (a bit like town centres on a Saturday night today).
If you were in Anglo-Saxon England it was customary to make a loaf from the very first grains to be harvested. After the loaf was blessed in church you may very well be required to employ it to work magic, A book of Anglo-Saxon charms directed that the ‘Lammas bread’ be broken into four bits, which were to be placed at the four corners of the barn, to protect the grain that was due to be garnered.
The Deity of the harvest is the Green Man (the ultimate symbol of mans reliance and union with nature) in the form of John Barleycorn. Every year John Barleycorn (the wheat/barley crop) sacrifices himself in order to enable humans and animals to live. In some areas his death was mourned with wreaths decorated with poppies or cornflowers.
In the form of John Barleycorn the harvest of the wheat/barley reminds us of the cycles and aspects of life; birth, sacrifice, death, transformation and rebirth – the crop is born in the spring, at harvest it is sacrificed and dies, part of it undergoes transformation (it is turned into bread) and part of it is stored away to be used as next years seed (rebirth), and so the cycle begins again.
Lammas Customs and Traditions
In the Scottish highlands the beginning of August was the time to refresh and renew magical protection on the crops, livestock and other property. Rowan crosses were placed over doors as a means of protection and black tar would be painted on the ears and the tails of the livestock to ensure their health and safety.
The Lammas bannock (bonnach lunastain) was a special cake that was baked, eaten out of doors accompanied by a ritual in which bits of the cake would be thrown over the shoulder to feed the fox, eagle or any other predatory animals – as each piece was tossed a plea to that animal was made to spare the livestock.