Lammas, Lughnasadh: Christians, Pagans observe ancient grain harvest festival

Wheat in field with blue sky in background

Lammas has historically been a festival of the wheat harvest, accompanied by athletic games, feasting and blessings. Photo by Chaitanya K., courtesy of Pixabay

SATURDAY, AUGUST 1: As the heat of July breaks into August—Christians, Pagans and many others from areas of England, Ireland and Scotland mark the feast of Lammas.

An ancient festival of the wheat harvest, Lammas—or Lughnasadh—has long been called “the feast of first fruits.” In England and some English-speaking countries, August 1 is “Lammas Day;” historically, it was customary to bring a loaf of bread made from the new wheat crop to church for a blessing. For many, Lammas was a time of gratitude, as the hard work of planting gave way to the bounty of the harvest.

Interested in the bread traditions of world faiths? Check out Lynne Meredith Golodner’s “The Flavors of Faith: Holy Breads,” which includes recipes, photos and engaging stories of the place where bread and faith intersect.

LUGHNASADH: A PAGAN CUSTOM

Loaf of wheat bread cut into slices on wooden cutting board

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

In the Neopagan and Wiccan Wheels of the Year, Lughnasadh is one of eight sabbats and the first of three harvest festivals (the other harvest festivals being Mabon, or autumn equinox, and Samhain). In Wicca and ancient pagan tradition, Lughnassadh is the time for the funeral games of Lugh, the sun god. In a manner similar to ancient Olympic games, the games of Lugh were in honor of his foster mother and included athletic games, feasting, matchmaking and ritual visits to holy wells. Today, common foods on the table at Lughnasadh are apples, grains, breads and berries. (Learn more from Wicca.com.) Some mark this festival on July 31, though it is most widely observed on the first day of August.

For Christians, Lammas has been a time for blessing loaves made of fresh wheat. In time, Christians also created a version of the Scottish Highland Quarter Cake for Lammas, which bore Christian symbols on the top. (Catholic Culture has a recipe.)

NEWS: LAMMAS AND LUGHNASSADH TODAY

Lughnasadh customs were commonplace until the 20th century, though evidence of ongoing tradition is seen in the popular Puck Fair of County Kerry and Christian pilgrimages. (Wikipedia has details on Lammas and Lughnassadh.) Throughout Ireland’s history, significant mountains and hills were climbed at Lughnasadh; the custom was brought into Christianity when Christian pilgrimages were undertaken near August 1. The most well-known pilgrimage of this type is Reek Sunday, a trek to the top of Croagh Patrick in County Mayo in late July that continues to draw tens of thousands of Christian pilgrims each year.

Family reunions are still common among the Irish diaspora near August 1, and in Ireland, several towns have recently created Lughnasadh festivals and fairs to parallel Puck Fair. (In Eastbourne, England, a Lammas festival took place July 25-26.) For centuries, Lammas has been a time to gather wild berries—bilberries, in particular, but also blackberries and blueberries–for eating, baking and making wine.

Hungry for a few good wheat bread recipes? Check out the fresh-from-the-oven suggestions of AllRecipes, Betty Crocker, Food Network and New York Times.

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Categories: ChristianWiccan / Pagan

Call it Litha, Midsummer or Solstice: Celebrate northern height of summer

Large crowd dancing outdoors in a circle, with farmhouse and meadows in background

Midsummer dancing in Sweden, June 2013. Photo by Lars Andersson, courtesy of Flickr

SUNDAY, JUNE 21: Picnics on the beach, Midsummer parties and bonfires abound at the summer solstice—and, across the Northern Hemisphere, it’s the “longest day of the year.” Astronomically, the summer solstice occurs when the tilt of Earth’s semi-axis in the northern hemisphere is most inclined toward the sun; thus, inhabitants of the north experience more hours and minutes of daylight today than on any other day of the year. (Wikipedia has details.) In several Scandinavian countries, the day is celebrated as Midsummer’s Eve and then Midsummer, complete with an entire day’s worth of outdoor activities for citizens young and old. Wiccans and Pagans may observe Litha, a holiday of gratitude for light and life.

Smiling young girl with blonde hair and a crown of daisies and other flowers

A young girl wears a crown of flowers at a Midsummer celebration in New York. Photo by SwedenNewYork, courtesy of Flickr

MIDSUMMER: FROM SMORGASBORDS TO BONFIRES

In Scandinavian countries, the longest day of the year is one of the most beloved holidays of the year. Affectionately termed Midsummer, many spend the day outdoors with an extravagant smorgasbord lunch, games for the entire community, time at the beach, dancing and bonfires. (Learn more—and check out an authentic Swedish YouTube video of Midsummer—in our all-summer column.) Whether the long, dark Scandinavian winters are the reason for Midsummer exhilaration or it’s something else altogether, this holiday is unrivaled in many countries of the world.

Flower crowns are all the rage, and this ancient accessory for Midsummer fetes is as easy as gathering a few favorite flowers and basic craft materials. For a tutorial on how to create a chic one, check out Lauren Conrad.com and Cosmopolitan.

The Midsummer menu is as dear to Scandinavians as the Christmas goose or ham is to celebrants of the winter holiday, and fresh strawberries often take center stage in cakes, shortcakes or eaten straight out of the bowl. Other traditional foods include the season’s first potatoes, made with dill and butter; a roast; herring or other types of fish and seafood; hard-boiled eggs and summer cabbage. For recipes and ideas on how to spend the longest day of the year, check out the UK’s The Independent.

LITHA: A TRIBUTE TO STRENGTH OF MID-SUMMER SUN

Adherents of Wicca and Paganism look to the Sun God on the summer solstice, noting the full abundance of nature at the point of mid-summer. Traditionally, fresh fruits and vegetables are the main course at shared meals, and bonfires are lit to pay homage to the full strength of the sun. (Wicca.com has more.) In centuries past, torchlight processions were common; at Stonehenge, the heelstone marks the midsummer sunrise as viewed from the center of the stone circle. Though harvest is not in full swing yet, many wild herbs are mature for picking and, thus, Midsummer is known as “Gathering Day” in Wales and in other various regions. Herbs, gathered most often for medicinal qualities, are gathered and dried for later use.

Interested in a modern-day take on gathering and drying healing herbs? Check out this story by Antioch College student Aubrey Hodapp, whose studies under an herbalist have helped her to deliver local, organic tea to her fellow students and much more (featured this week at FeedTheSpirit).

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Categories: International ObservancesWiccan / Pagan

Beltane: Welcome summer the ancient Celtic way

Young girls in fancy matching dresses dance around a Maypole with ribbons in their hands, others dance while crowd looks on

Children in Wiltshire dance around a Maypole, an integral part of ancient Beltane celebrations. Photo by Anguskirk, courtesy of Flickr

FRIDAY, MAY 1: An ancient Gaelic festival ushering in the joy of summer blossoms across Ireland and Scotland, parts of Europe and in Wiccan and Pagan communities worldwide, as Beltane. (In the Southern Hemisphere, Wiccans and Pagans mark Samhain.)

Enormous bonfires light a night sky that paints the backdrop for elaborate costumes, reenactments, dancing, fire-jumping and a revival of ancient rituals. Edinburgh now draws tens of thousands of attendees annually for its Beltane Fire Festival, which boasts hundreds of volunteers and performers; in some areas of Scotland and Ireland, remnants of old Beltane customs still remain. Halfway between the spring equinox and summer solstice, Beltane has always ranked among the most significant of pagan festivals.

BELTANE: FLOWERS, BONFIRES AND A MAYPOLE DANCE

The earliest Irish literature mentions Beltane, and for the pastoral Celts this festival marked a key time of year. In daylight hours, cattle were adorned in flowers and driven to summer pastures; at nighttime, people and cattle walked or leapt between bonfires in a cleansing and protective ritual. During this sacred time of year, early pagan customs were meant to protect crops, cattle and people from disease and other forces of nature. (Wikipedia has details.) A home’s doors and windows were decorated with May flowers, and holy wells were visited. The morning dew of Beltane was believed to hold unique qualities that conserved youthfulness and beauty. Candles and hearth fires that had been put out on Beltane Eve were re-lit with the Beltane bonfire.

Dark, nighttime, outdoors, crowds in front of building with pillars holding enormous bonfires

The Beltane Fire Festival at Edinburgh. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

As Samhain commemorates the dark half of the year, Beltane celebrates the light half of the year. New life springs forth, the sun returns in full strength and energy is abundant. In centuries past, both Beltane and Samhain were regarded as days of “no time”—that is, when veils between this world and the other world are thinnest. With this belief, pagans would protect themselves and their homes from spirits and mischievous faeries with rituals and natural objects, such as rowan branches, on the outside of their homes. Dancing would commence throughout the countryside and, following a promiscuous night in the woods, young people would gather in the morning to weave the ribbons of the Maypole. Feasts ensued, which were often accompanied by athletic tournaments, costumed performances, an elected king and queen and the decoration of flower wreaths and garlands.

CALTON HILL: THE BELTANE FIRE FESTIVAL

In 1988, the Beltane Fire Festival made an attempt to revive the energy and atmosphere of ancient Celtic bonfires. With a focus on appreciation for the cyclical nature of seasons and the environment, the first Beltane Fire Festival was organized in collaboration with a folklorist from the Edinburgh University’s School of Scottish Studies. Five performers and less than 100 attendees were present; by 1999, the event drew 10,000 spectators. Today, approximately 300 performers attend and audience numbers vary between 6,000 and 12,000.

This year, organizers are announcing a debut of never-before-seen fire-related performance elements, along with glowing elements in a giant faerie garden made from wax gathered from Edinburgh’s underground caves. (STV Edinburgh has the story.)

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Categories: Wiccan / Pagan

Groundhog Day / Imbolc: Can a shadow predict spring’s arrival?

Groundhog on ground looking away from camera

What will Punxsutawney Phil predict this year? Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 2: Will he—or won’t he?

That’s the question asked by thousands of spectators in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, and millions more following the story digitally. Will the groundhog see his shadow?

Tradition holds that, if a groundhog emerging from his burrow sees his shadow, winter will last another six weeks; if the groundhog does not see his shadow, an early spring is in store. Though much of the United States will be covered in snow on Groundhog Day 2015—with forecasters predicting a winter far from over—spectators will be left wondering until the much-anticipated emergence of the furry woodland creature.

The most famous groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, resides in Pennsylvania, and his predictions have been publicized in beloved tradition for more than a century. This year, head on over to the official Punxsutawney website for information on the celebrations that last for days—dining, parties, music and much more are included.

Did you know? In Alaska, Feb. 2 is known as Marmot Day, since few groundhogs live in Alaska.

Origins of Groundhog Day lie in the ancient pagan holiday known as Imbolc, which falls between winter solstice and the spring equinox. Similar “prediction” holidays have existed around the world for hundreds of years, with native groups looking to a variety of hibernating animals, from bears to snakes (Wikipedia has details). Phil was declared the official forecasting groundhog of America in 1887, when the city editor of the Punxsutawney Spirit newspaper made the declaration and began publishing stories about the groundhog.

Wondering what groundhogs really do on Groundhog Day? National Geographic offers the scoop on a different prediction.

IMBOLC:
PAGAN & WICCAN WELCOME TO SPRING

An ancient Gaelic festival that once was observed across Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man, Imbolc honors the goddess Brigid and has long been associated with the coming of spring. (Wikipedia has details.) Gaelic for “ewe’s milk,” in honor of lactating sheep (and the new life of spring that they represent), Imbolc is, by some accounts, more than 12,000 years old. Traditionally, Imbolc was observed on Feb. 1, but today, dates vary.

In Gaelic Ireland, enormous feasts were held for Imbolc. The goddess Brigid was invoked for the blessing of livestock, homes were cleaned, and Brigid’s cross was fashioned and hung on front doors. Brigid was said to visit favored households on Imbolc Eve; in return, families would set aside feasting food and drink for her. The hag of Gaelic tradition, Cailleach, is said to have gathered firewood as a prediction of weather, and in some areas, snakes and woodland creatures are watched as they emerge from their homes and hibernation.

Today, feasts continue for Imbolc in some regions (the International Business Times reported, with photos from recent celebrations). Some adherents still follow ancient rituals, by visiting holy wells and molding Brigid crosses.

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Categories: National ObservancesWiccan / Pagan

Yule: Embrace midwinter and solstice during year’s longest night

Plate with Yule log and cookies in shapes of acorns, leaves and woodland animals, lit pine tree in backgroung

A cake Yule log is accompanied by cookies reflecting nature’s gifts. Photo in public domain

SUNDAY, DECEMBER 21: The pale winter sun’s waning rays give way to the longest night of the year, on winter solstice—known also as Yule, or midwinter. One of the oldest celebrations of winter, Yule conjures visions of steaming cinnamon wassail, a crackling fireplace and the serenity of a blanket of snow. Despite the darkness and bitter cold, Yule is a time of joy: while enjoying the tranquility of midwinter, Pagans, Wiccans and many world citizens welcome the reemerging sun. Winter solstice marks a turning point when days begin, once again, to lengthen, and nights to shorten.

A HISTORY OF YULE:
THE LOG AND THE MISTLETOE

From the earliest centuries, Germanic peoples observed an indigenous midwinter festival; in ancient Rome, Saturnalia was held on the winter solstice, and evergreen décor, gifts and feasts accompanied the festival. (Wikipedia has details.) In pagan tradition, the Great Mother gave birth to the new Sun King on winter solstice—a belief still held by Pagans today—and as centuries progressed, outdoor bonfires were moved indoors to a hearth with a Yule log. (Note that in some regions, Yule bonfires are still held outdoors.)

In the hearth, a large oak log ceremoniously placed is kindled at dusk, being allowed to burn for many hours or several days—tradition varies. In Druid custom, mistletoe is cut from an oak tree. Decorated Yule candles help welcome such beloved traditions as wassail, toasts and caroling. (No fireplace in your home? No problem. Time Warner Cable is offering, through Jan. 2, the Holiday Yule Log, to light up television screens with a crackling fire.)

Today, Pagans and Wiccans still celebrate with wassail, feasts and, sometimes, a Yule log. Among some sects, Yule lasts 12 days from winter solstice. In some Scandinavian countries, this season is known as Jul.

RECIPES AND MORE

The spicy aroma of cinnamon wassail will warm any kitchen!

Find abundant wassail and Yule log recipes at Food Network, Martha Stewart and Cooks.com.

Feast dishes like Shortest Day Ham Loaf, Brighter Day Cheese Ball, Solstice Surprise Salad and Roasted Lamb Feast for a (Sun) King are at Wicca.com.

Instructions for a Yule ritual with candles and blessings is available at this UK site.

Interested in Yule songs? How about a Yule altar? Get an altar how-to, learn Yule songs for kids, access a Yule playlist, find suggestions of things to hang on a Pagan tree and more at PaganWiccan.com.

 

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Categories: International ObservancesWiccan / Pagan

Autumnal Equinox: Pagans, Wiccans observe event with Mabon and Ostara

Table set with candles, rocks, herbs, Wiccan symbols and stars

An altar set for Mabon. Photo in public domain

MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 22: The autumnal equinox ushers in equal day and night around the globe, and for Pagans and Wiccans, this celestial event brings Mabon—the second harvest festival. As the Earth’s subsolar point crosses the Equator, the planet begins moving southward, increasing darkness in the Northern Hemisphere and light in the Southern Hemisphere. Wiccans use Mabon (or Ostara, in the Southern Hemisphere) as an opportunity for thanksgiving: to welcome the impending dark, to give thanks for the long hours of sunlight of summer and to rejoice in the current bountiful harvest. Spicy mulled wines, crisp apples and warming cider are offered and consumed.

Did you know? Mabon is the name of a god from Welsh mythology.

In the agricultural societies of centuries past, autumn meant gathering together after the long, laborious hours of summer planting. Though fewer families now spend the summer planting, tending and gathering, autumn can still be a time of winding down and reflecting. Wiccans recognize the aging Goddess and spend ample time in nature.

Make it! Apple dolls and Mabon cider: Anyone can celebrate the season (and its produce) with this craft—applehead dolls, complete with intricate features and explained at Martha Stewart.com. Brew up some Mabon cider with the easy-to-follow recipe found here.

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Categories: Wiccan / Pagan

Lammas, Lughnassadh: Christians, Wiccans, Pagans mark grain harvest festival

Grains, breads and rolls on table

Lughnasadh and Lammas have long been a first harvest festival: a time for giving thanks for grains, and baking with the fresh crops. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

FRIDAY, AUGUST 1: Freshly baked breads, golden grains, dancing and the imminent days of autumn are all central to today’s celebration—by Christians, Lammas, and by Wiccans and Pagans (in the Northern Hemisphere), Lughnassadh. Though the name varies by tradition, this first harvest festival draws its roots from the same agricultural festival, steeped deep in history.

It is the joyful simplicity of gratitude for the change in seasons—from a season of planting to a season of harvest—that marks today’s occasion. While Lammas is a Christian holiday, it is observed primarily by the English and those of the Anglo-Saxon tradition; the Catholic Church previously commemorated both Lammas and the feast of St. Peter in Chains on August 1, but the latter feast has since been removed from the Roman Calendar. (Learn more from Catholic Culture.) For Wiccans and Pagans everywhere, Lughnassadh is a time for reflection, renewed hope and dancing. Centuries ago, the blessing of the first fruits—that is, the first crops of the harvest—was performed in both the Eastern and Western Christian Churches.

HOLY BREADS

Learn more about the link between grains, breads and faith in Flavors of Faith: Holy Breads, a book filled with fascinating stories and traditional recipes, from ReadTheSpirit author Lynne Golodner.

LAMMAS: A LOAF TO MASS FOR BLESSING

The Anglo-Saxon version of Lammas, or hlaf-mas, “loaf-mass,” refers to the practice of bringing a loaf of freshly baked bread to one’s local church for blessing: the loaf would, of course, be made from the baker’s freshly harvested grain. The faithful would ask God’s blessings upon their harvest, and in some regions, Anglo-Saxon charms were placed upon the Lammas loaves. (Find scrumptious bread recipes at Allrecipes; get instructions for daily fresh bread from Mother Earth News.) Following Lammas Mass, Christians would partake in a Lammas Day feast, complete with the loaf that had been blessed in church.

LUGHNASSADH: A FESTIVAL FOR THE SUN KING

Ancient Celtic myth describes a god of sun, of light and brightness: He is Lugh, the deity for whom Lughnassadh is named. Ever mirthful, Lugh is honored alongside his foster mother, Tailtiu, who is said to be responsible for introducing agriculture to Ireland. The story of Lughnassadh is one of the cycle of life, of the harvesting of grains and crops, and of one season’s fruits dropping seeds for the next. (Wikipedia has details.) In many areas, corn dollies were made from the harvested corn, sometimes hung in the home for a measure of luck.

Today, modern Wiccans and Pagans enjoy the season’s freshest produce, preferably in a feast: blackberries, grains, grapes and apples. Aside from ceremonies with dancing and bonfires, anyone can participate in Lughnassadh by giving thanks for the food on the table. (Learn more from Wicca.com.) Try a walk in the woods or fields, visit an orchard, or collect seeds for next year’s planting season.

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Categories: Wiccan / Pagan