Lammas translates from Anglo-Saxon (“hlaf-mass”) as “Loaf Mass.” Also called “Lughnasadh” (pronounced “LOO-nah-sah”) from the Irish Gaelic, it celebrates the Irish god of fire and light, Lugh (pronounced “Loo”), and the harvesting of the grain, which occurs at this time.
Most pagans celebrate Lammas on August 1, though it starts the evening before, on “August Eve,” another recognized name for this celebration.
The Corn King Sacrifice
This ritual incorporates the sacrifice of the Corn King, which symbolizes the ripening of the grain, but also the death in life of lengthening nights and gradually diminishing daylight as we head towards autumn and then winter.
Different groups put their unique twist on the traditions, as evidenced by Jeff McQueen, First Degree Priest with the Wiccan Church of Canada, who provides the Corn King sacrifice for his yearly Lammas ritual in the form of a cornbread teddy bear. McQueen talked with Val Tobin about his Lammas ritual and how everyone has come to expect the teddy bear’s presence as the ritual sacrifice:
The first thing to go is the head of our little teddy bear. It’s become quite a staple, actually. Our corn king is a teddy bear, which gives it all the more poignancy that we’re destroying a teddy bear as opposed to some sort of phallic symbol or something. We’re tearing the head off to burn. Morbid, perhaps, but somehow fitting. It’s become tradition now. I don’t think it would work if we had anything else, really.
Banishing and Manifesting with the Corn King Teddy Bear
McQueen passes the teddy bear around during the ritual so each participant can break off two pieces. One piece will be infused by the recipient with anything he or she wishes to banish from his or her life. This would include anything holding the person back from achieving his or her desires. The other piece will be infused with the energy of manifestation of what the person desires.
Each participant, in turn, approaches the cauldron of fire and throws in the piece infused with the banishing energy. Eating the piece with the manifestation energy internalizes those desires so that they can come to fruition. As McQueen explains it, “One [piece] is banishing — anything that is holding us back from our harvest or anything that we’re heading for. The other [piece] is to internalize what it is that we want — to make us one with what we want.”
Ideas to Celebrate Lammas
When asked what else people can do to celebrate Lammas, McQueen replies, “Drink beer.”
He is not being cheeky.
Lammas is a grain harvest festival, and drinking or brewing beer fits perfectly into that theme. McQueen says that he once participated in a ritual that centred around brewing beer. He suggests also, “Anything to do with the grains, really. Make your own bread. Have a bonfire, of course. Go and pick your own corn. Get out in the fields. That’s always a lot of fun. To do it yourself, you get that much more respect out of it.”
Louise Bunn, in Book of Shadows, also suggests making bread from scratch. Other activities she recommends include making jewellery from grains, making corn dollies, drinking ale, beer, whiskey, or other grain-based drinks, participating in harvesting grain, and giving thanks for the first harvest.
We celebrate Lammas at a time when summer still holds sway. We continue to enjoy vacations at the cottage, camping, swimming, and the freedom that comes with warm weather. We are far from thoughts of snow tires, heavy coats and boots, and salting and sanding roads and driveways.
Light and cheer that started at Beltane and carried over through Litha still dominate at Lammas. But at Mabon, the celebration following this one, we begin to slow down and start to change the focus from outward to inward, as we celebrate the balance of light and dark at the autumn equinox.
Image: Lammas Harvest Celebration – The Yorck Project via Wikimedia Commons
Bunn, Louise, Book of Shadows: Participant’s Handbook for Paganism 101, Vancouver: Louise Bunn, 1998.
Grist, Tony and Aileen, The Illustrated Guide to Wicca, New York: Sterling Publishing Company, 2000.
McQueen, Jeff, Priest, 1st degree, the Wiccan Church of Canada.
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