You say Lammas, I say Lughnasadh: Christians, Pagans embrace harvest

Three rolls with wheat strands on wood board on wood table

Photo courtesy of pxhere

THURSDAY, AUGUST 1: As August begins and grains turn golden in the fields, Christians, Pagans and many others from areas of England, Ireland and Scotland mark centuries-old harvest festivals. The customs once were so well known that Shakespeare could use a reference to Lammas as a symbolic date in his tragedy Romeo and Juliet. Juliet’s birthday was Lammas Eve.

Today, families with cultural roots in the UK may mark either Lammas or Lughnasadh. Pagan groups maintain various customs related to these traditions, regarding this point in the year as a “feast of first fruits.”

Historically, it was customary to bring a loaf of bread made from the new wheat crop to the church for a blessing on August 1, or Lammas Day.

It is gratitude for the change in seasons—from a season of planting to a season of harvest—that marks today’s observance. Lughnasadh customs were more commonplace until the 20th century, though evidence of ongoing tradition is seen in the popular Puck Fair of County Kerry and Christian pilgrimages. 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.

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.)

In the Neopagan and Wiccan faiths, Lughnasadh is one of eight sabbaths and is the first of three harvest festivals. Ancient Celtic myth describes a god of sun, of light and brightness: He is Lugh, the deity for whom Lughnasadh 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 Lughnasadh 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. Today, common foods on the table at Lughnasadh are apples, grains, breads and berries.

Interested in making a Lammas loaf? Try this recipe, from Recipes for a Pagan Soul:

4 cups all purpose/bread flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt, to taste
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup raisins
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups buttermilk

Stir flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda and raisins together. Separately, fork-blend eggs and buttermilk, then add to dry ingredients. Stir until sticky batter is formed. Scrape batter onto a well-floured surface and knead lightly. Shape batter into a ball, then place in a round, non-stick casserole dish that has been sprayed with cooking spray. Bake uncovered in preheated 350-degree oven for about 1-1/4 hours.

Wait 10-15 minutes before attempting to remove bread from casserole, then cool on wire rack. If desired, cut loaf into quarters and then slice thinly.

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Categories: ChristianWiccan / Pagan

Beltane, Samhain: Wiccans and Pagans mark May Day festival

Fire with dancers in middle of crowd, nighttime

The Beltane Fire Festival at Calton Hill, Edinburgh, Scotland. Photo by Martin Robertson, courtesy of Flickr

WEDNESDAY, MAY 1: Enjoy the beauty of spring and summer today! May 1 is the Pagan and Wiccan festival of Beltane, a joyous festival that celebrates the renewal and bounty of nature. Beltane (or Samhain, in the southern hemisphere) falls on a date approximately halfway between the spring equinox and summer solstice.

Original Beltane festivals date back thousands of years to ancient Ireland and Scotland, and today, a revival of these ancient rites is bringing Celtic people back to their roots. Dancing around a Maypole might not be a feasible activity for most people today, but everyone can rejoice in spring by taking a nature walk, placing fresh flowers around the home or eating traditional foods like oats and dairy.

Ancient Beltane rituals often revolved around fertility; as time progressed, enormous community bonfires on Beltane Eve signified purity and the coming warmth and light of summer months. Early season herbs, such as juniper, were often thrown onto fires to add blessing to the smoke, and pagans would often run between two fires for luck. Wiccans of today mark Beltane as one of eight sabbats, or holidays.

The greatest Beltane Eve festival today is the Edinburgh Beltane Fire Festival, an extravagant event on Calton Hill in Scotland that attracts approximately 15,000 people annually. (Beltane.org is the official site.) The Beltane Fire Festival began during the night of April 30 in 1988, and has since provided spectators with a wide array of performances, hypnotic drum beats and more, by firelight.

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Categories: Wiccan / Pagan

Samhain: Pagans, Wiccans celebrate harvest festival

People gathering around candles, performing a ritual

Neopagans participate in a Samhain ritual that honors the dead. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 31: Cook up some acorn squash and apples, make a toast with mulled wine and learn the root of some of Halloween’s most ancient traditions, on Samhain. (You may also want to read our extensive column on the three days of Christian festivals that were established to eclipse Samhain.)

Originally a Gaelic festival that marked the end of harvest season and ushered in winter, Samhain is now celebrated by Wiccans and Pagans as a festival of darkness. In contrast to Beltane, which embraces the light and fertility of spring, Samhain rituals center around the spirits of the dead—both friendly and unfriendly. (Wikipedia has details.) From the earliest days, this time of year has been seen as the point at which the veil between this world and the afterworld is at its thinnest point.

Born of a pastoral people, Samhain began in the oral traditions of Irish mythology; it wasn’t until the Middle Ages when visiting Christian monks began penning some of the tales. Several essential events occurred annually on Samhain, such as taking stock of herds and ushering livestock into winter pastures. As even the earliest cultures believed that spirits could access our world most easily at this time of year, bonfires were lit to protect and cleanse people, livestock and pastures. Feasts were prepared, and the spirits of deceased ancestors were invited into the home with altars. Evil spirits were kept away with “guising” (costuming to fool the spirits), and turnip lanterns were often set in windows to scare evil spirits or to represent spiritual beings—a custom that likely evolved into the modern jack-o-lantern.

Several sites in Ireland are still associated with Samhain, such as Oweynagat—the “cave of the cats”—where otherworldly beings were said to emerge. The Hill of Ward in County Meath is rumored to have been the site of large Samhain gatherings and bonfires.

WICCANS, PAGANS & A MODERN SAMHAIN

Today’s Wiccans observe Samhain as a Sabbat, while Pagans—including Neopagans and Celtic Reconstructionists—attempt to observe its rituals as close as possible to their original form. (Learn more from Wicca.com.) The 19th and 20th centuries have brought a revival in ancient pagan festivals and customs, with an upsurge in visitation to age-old sites. Traditional colors include black, orange and white; foods include turnips, apples, gourds, nuts, mulled wines and beef; herbs include allspice and sage.

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Categories: Wiccan / Pagan